The Pittsburgh Pirates ruled the National League, clinching the pennant with a come-from-behind victory over the Brooklyn Superbas. Honus Wagner, the future Hall of Famer, knocked in a pair of runs and swiped a bag in the clincher, a performance befitting his standing as one of the team’s highest-paid players at a cool $2,700. Wagner’s teammate, Deacon Phillippe, apparently pitched like his horse and buggy was double-parked, because winning the first pennant in franchise history required just 1 hour, 55 minutes.
This was precisely what NL officials had envisioned prior to the season when they enacted new rules, many designed to combat the scourge of “slow pitchers” and “with the view to shorten the game.”
“One ball penalty will be called against the pitcher,” the New York Times reported, “if he fails to deliver the ball in twenty seconds after the batsman has taken his place.”
The year was 1901.
The point is that rule changes aren’t new. It’s really about how seriously they are enforced, which brings us to the year 2023. The Pirates no longer rule the league, though for them Wagner’s salary wouldn’t be that far out of line from the rest. But once again, baseball has ushered in a wave of new regulations, including bigger bases to encourage steals, limiting the shift to open up the field for hits, and a pitch clock to speed up the game.
As we’ve already seen, the new rules will be enforced. Every player will be impacted one way or another, though some more than others, which is why The Athletic’s baseball staff went team-by-team to examine who could be most affected by the new rules.
Player: Zac Gallen, SP
While it’s tempting to forecast gaudy stolen base numbers for Arizona’s handful of speedy outfielders, it would be malpractice to overlook the effect the new pickoff throw limitations will have on Gallen, the Diamondbacks’ ace. Gallen loves to throw over to first. He led the National League in pickoff throws last season with 144, according to STATS LLC. (Fellow Arizona starters Merrill Kelly and Zach Davies were fourth and fifth in the NL.) Gallen will have to find another way to control the run game.
Player: Matt Olson, 1B
The Braves first baseman faced shifts in 81 percent of his plate appearances last season, and lost dozens of potential hits on sharp grounders to the right side or liners that were caught by a shifted defender playing in shallow right field. In his very first plate appearance of spring training, Olson hit a grounder through the right side for a single. In the past, that was an easy out, again and again. Without shifted defenses, it’s easy to imagine Olson getting at least another 25 hits to that side. And that’s probably a conservative estimate.