How the 2023 MLB Rule Changes Will Impact the Astros

Increasing the size of the bag and banning the shift could help Astros like Kyle Tucker.
Increasing the size of the bag and banning the shift could help Astros like Kyle Tucker. Photo by Jack Gorman
On Friday, Major League Baseball approved changes to rules in the game beginning in 2023. Most of these were expected, but all four player representatives voted against the changes stating in a release, "Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and the use of a pitch timer."

The universal designated hitter, adding a runner on second for each extra inning and some adjustments to instant replay were all in place this season and remain, but the new rules add additional wrinkles to the game meant to speed up play and generally shorten games. MLB tested these in the minor leagues for several seasons before considering implementing them at the big league level. How will they impact the Astros? Let's see.

Pitchers only allowed two pickoff moves or step offs per at bat.

We can begin with the least concerning rule, the limiting of the pickoff play or step off by the pitcher. Done as a means of controlling a runner at first (or second...or third) or as a way to control the pace of play with the plate, baseball is now allowing only two per at bat unless the runner advances, which resets the number. This is part of baseball's plan to speed up the pace of the game. For the Astros, the pickoff is not a huge part of their overall strategy. The step off could affect some pitchers, but this will dovetail into the pitch clock (more on that shortly) anyway.

Increase the size of the bases.

Baseball will increase the size of first, second and third base to 18 inches from its current 15. According to MLB, this has reduced player injuries 13.5 percent. Generally, increasing the size of the bases will not only prevent collisions (something we've seen with several Astros over the past few years), but encourage stolen bases, a benefit to speedy 'Stros like Kyle Tucker.

Implementing a pitch clock.

This is, by far, the most controversial rule change. Baseball is setting a pitch clock that will require a pitch to be delivered within 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 with a runner on the base paths. A violation by the pitcher/catcher results in a ball and a violation by the batter results in a strike. This single rule has helped to decrease the length of games in the minor leagues to around two hours and 30 minutes. The average in the big leagues is over three hours. Speeding up the time to the plate will certainly change how pitchers pitch. The Astros don't have anyone with a particularly slow delivery, but they are also not loaded with guys quick to the plate either. It will undoubtedly be quite an adjustment for every pitcher this offseason.

The shift is dead.

One of the more argued strategies in baseball in the last decade-plus is the use of the shift — putting more than the standard two players on one side of the infield against players who statistically hit to one side more than the others. In some cases, teams including the Astros will shift nearly their entire infield to one side. In fact, the Astros have employed the shift as much or more than any team in baseball and believe in its statistical success rates.

This is clearly a move by baseball to encourage offensive output, but, as numerous outlets have reported, banning the shift has had little to no impact on offense throughout the minors. Regardless, teams will have to keep two players on either side of second base beginning next season. For pull heavy hitters like Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman, this could be a benefit, but the players association believes it is unfair to pitchers, who fear more opportunities for runs scored. We shall see.

Jeff Balke covers the Astros weekly for the Houston Press and co-hosts the Bleav in Astros podcast with former third baseman and current Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum. Follow him on Twitter.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke