MLB Network’s Morosi: 3 ways new MLB rules may help Mariners

The hope for the Mariners in 2023 is that they close the gap between them and their chief rival in the American League West, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.

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Seattle has made several moves this offseason to aid in that mission, with the biggest additions being 2021 All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernández, two-time Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong, and veteran slugger AJ Pollock. Roster moves aren’t the only changes that could help the Mariners’ case this year, however. There are also new rules that will be instituted around Major League Baseball.

The most notable change is the limitation on infield shifts, as teams will be required to have two infielders on each side of second base, and all infielders must start the play with their feet on the infield dirt. There will also be a pitch clock (30 seconds between batters, 15 seconds between pitches with no one on base and 20 seconds with runners on), bigger bases, and a limit of two pickoffs by pitchers per plate appearance.

Will these changes help the Mariners? MLB Network’s Jon Morosi believes so, as he explained during his most recent weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob.

Here’s a look at three ways Morosi said the M’s could benefit from MLB’s new rules.

1. An infield prepared for life without the shift

When it comes to the shift regulations, Morosi said “I think it’s going to change the game in ways that maybe we don’t fully anticipate.” One of those ways is how it puts a premium on athletic defenders in the infield, and Seattle has three combined Gold Gloves between its shortstop, JP Crawford, and new second baseman, Wong.

“I do think that having a good defensive infield (is a benefit) – and an athletic defensive infield,” Morosi said, “which I believe the Mariners have especially when you look at JP and Kolten Wong as someone who has played Gold Glove- caliber defense at second.”

Wong, 34, won his Gold Gloves in 2019 and 2020 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and while his defensive numbers took a big dip with Milwaukee in 2022, there has been a belief shared by him and others that he’ll return to form this season after dealing with calf and oblique injuries the past two seasons. He could also be helped by Mariners infield coach Perry Hill, who has worked wonders with other Mariners fielders including Crawford, first baseman Ty France and third baseman Eugenio Suárez.

“In general, I think the Mariners are better equipped than many other teams are (for the new shift rule),” Morosi said.

2. Stealing more bases

The bases around the league will be 18 inches square rather than 15 inches square. While the change was made more for safety concerns as it can prevent collisions, there’s a secondary benefit that will add excitement to the game.

“I think we’ll see more stolen bases, and certainly the Mariners have a team (that can steal bases),” Morosi said. “Whether it’s Julio (Rodríguez), whether it’s Kolten Wong, who’s got a good stolen base track record growing up in the game, (Jarred) Kelenic… Teoscar I think if you’re not paying attention to him, he’ll steal a base. The bench has some good speed with (Dylan) Moore and (Sam) Haggerty.”

The bigger bags will work in tandem with another new rule to promote teams taking more chances on the basepaths.

“You’re going to be able, I think, to pick up an extra 90 feet often, so I think that’s going to certainly change the game. And it’s not just the bigger bases, it’s also the restrictions on how many times pitchers can throw over (on pickoffs), and so that also plays into the advantage to the base stealer,” Morosi said. “This is a young opportunistic team. … I think the Mariners were about middle of the pack last year in stolen bases (editor’s note: Seattle had 83 steals in 2022, which was exactly the MLB average per Baseball Reference and ranked 17th in the league). I think they could really move that higher with a full year of Kolten Wong, Teoscar, maybe more involvement from Kelenic and Moore and Haggerty. I think they’re going to be a good baserunning team.”

3. A more welcoming environment for left-handed hitters

Finally, there’s the one thing that gets most of the headlines whenever the shift debate comes up, which is that the shift has disproportionately impacted left-handed hitters in a negative way.

The Mariners have a few players who should be very invested in how defenses react to the shift limitation, most notably Kelenic and Cal Raleigh.

Kelenic, 23, has yet to find sustained success at the MLB level, and he’s seen the shift plenty in his time with the Mariners. And while the 26-year-old Raleigh is a switch-hitter, he sees much more time at the plate hitting from the left side and had just a .211 batting average in what was still a breakout 2022 campaign.

Morosi pointed out that just as important as the improved results that left-handed hitters may see is how that will help them out mentally.

“I think one of the ways we’re going to see change is the mental burden being lifted on the hitters,” he said, using perhaps the most extremely shifted player in baseball as an example. “Joey Gallo, if he were to sit down with it with us today… I think he would say that it wasn’t just the shift and the number of times that a fielder snared what should have been a base hit off his bat (that hindered him). It was him going up to the plate with his batting average 50 points lower than it should be and the toll that that took on his confidence, sort of fighting himself, ‘Man, my results should be better. I’m so frustrated.’ And you’re going up to the plate and you’re looking up and it looks like there’s 20 guys on the field ready to catch your line drives.

“I think that mentally – especially on the left-handed bats, maybe somebody like (Jesse) Winker, maybe somebody like Kelenic, certainly Gallo – it affected them. It affected their confidence, how they felt as they came up to the plate. And I think the restoration of the normal confidence and approach of a left-handed batter especially is going to be one of the more dramatic changes. Not just on a single ball in play that was caught, it’s just the overall levity they now have in doing their job without feeling as though the odds are so stacked against them.”

You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Morosi in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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