It’s that time of year again! Our correspondents Vincent and Michael Thomas, a father-son team of avid and knowledgeable baseball fans, are sharing their annual preview and guide to the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Here’s what you need to know: 10 great 2023 storylines to follow to keep you engaged all summer and equipped to talk MLB news and big events like an expert this season. Batter up!
the 2023 MLB season is finally here!
30 on the 30th!
All 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are scheduled to play their first games of the 2023 season on Thursday, March 30. To prepare you for those 15 games, and the hundreds that will be played after them, we enthusiastically present our sixth annual list of ten MLB Opening Day conversation topics.
The 10 Great Storylines to Follow this MLB Season 2023
1. Four New Rules.
To make its games shorter and more exciting, MLB made four changes to its rulebook that will be effective for the first time in regular season games on Opening Day. They are:
The pitcher must start to throw a pitch within 15 seconds of receiving the ball if there are no baserunners. If there are baserunners, the pitcher must start to throw within 20 seconds. If the pitcher exceeds the applicable time limit, the umpire will award the batter one ball in the ball/strike count. Batters must be both in the batter’s box and focused on the pitcher eight seconds before the end of the applicable time limit. If the batter misses this deadline, the umpire will award the pitcher one strike in the ball/strike count. To allow players to comply with this rule and umpires to enforce it, a pitch clock will be installed at every MLB ballpark. For the first time ever, Major League Baseball will be played with a clock.
Pickoff Attempt Limit for Pitchers.
Pitchers may only attempt to record an out via a “pickoff” – throwing the ball to a teammate who attempts to tag a baserunner who has left the base to take his lead before the baserunner can return to the base or advance to the next one – two times for each batter.
Any time that the pitcher stops live action by stepping off the pitching rubber – whether he attempts a pickoff throw or not – counts toward the two pickoff attempts limit. If the pitcher exceeds the pickoff attempts limit without successfully picking off a baserunner, the umpire will call a balk on the pitcher. Baserunners automatically advance one base when a balk is called. Both this rule and the pitch timer rule are intended to increase the pace of play and shorten the length of games.
Infield Defensive Shift Restrictions.
Two infielders must line up on either side of second base, with both feet on the infield dirt, before every pitch. Teams are prohibited from using a “shift” on the infield – positioning three infielders on one side of second base or positioning one infielder on the outfield grass – to field batted balls that would otherwise be out of reach.
This rule is intended to produce more base hits, baserunners, and runs scored. By forcing infielders to rely more on quickness, speed, and fielding skills than strategic positioning to make putouts, the rule will also highlight and reward players’ athleticism.
MLB increased the standard size of the bases used for first, second, and third base in its games from 15 square inches to 18 square inches. Because these three bases will be larger, the distance between first and second base and second and third base will be 4.5 inches shorter. The distance between home plate and first base and third base and home plate will be 3 inches shorter. This rule is intended to provide an incentive for teams to attempt to steal bases by increasing the likelihood of success.
what’s the reasoning behind all the new rules this MLB season?
MLB implemented these new rules in its preseason games to help players and managers adjust before the regular season.
There is evidence that the new rules are producing the desired results. The New York Times reported that the average time of 2023 preseason games is two hours, thirty-five minutes — 26 minutes faster than the average time of 2022 preseason games.
Players attempted to steal bases 3.1 times per 100 plate appearances, up from 2.1 per 100 in 2022. 77.2 percent of those attempts were successful, up from 71.3 in the 2022 preseason.
2. High Salaries.
Do you think the cost of eggs went through the roof this winter? Try convincing one of the most coveted MLB free agent baseball players to sign an agreement with your team.
11 $100 million+ new player agreements
11 players signed multi-year agreements that will pay them $100 million or more. Seven of those agreements were extensions, which allowed teams to keep players who were, or about to be, free agents from leaving to play on another team.
Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees right fielder, signed the most lucrative agreement. The Yankees agreed to pay him $360 million to continue to play for them for nine more seasons.
The four players who signed nine-figure agreements with new teams are shortstops Trea Turner, (Philadelphia Phillies), Xander Bogaerts (San Diego Padres,) and Dansby Swanson (Chicago Cubs,) and starting pitcher Jacob DeGrom (Texas Rangers.)
deep pockets at the Padres and Mets
Two teams – the Padres and the New York Mets – were breathtakingly aggressive in making salary offers to players. Despite their largess, neither team is predicted to win the 2023 World Series. That brings us to the most reliable baseball conversation topic:
3. Who’s Going to Win the World Series?
We predict that the Toronto Blue Jays (East,) Cleveland Guardians (Central,) and Houston Astros (West) will win their divisions in the American League. The Seattle Mariners and two East Division teams – the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays – will join them in the playoffs as the Wild Card teams.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves (East,) St. Louis Cardinals (Central,) and the Padres (West) will win their divisions. The next three in will be the Los Angeles Dodgers and two East Division teams – the Mets and the Phillies.
The best of the rest
American League: the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, and Texas Rangers. National League: the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and Arizona Diamondbacks.
World Series Champion predictions
Vince: Braves defeat Astros. Michael: Padres defeat Blue Jays
4. Teams On the Rise.
If the 30 MLB teams were publicly traded companies, your investment advisor would have “buy” recommendations for shares of the Mariners and the Orioles.
Seattle Mariners on the rise
Last season, the Mariners earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2001. They won a three-game Wild Card playoff series against the favored Toronto Blue Jays. Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners’ center fielder, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. The Mariners pitching staff consisted of an outstanding bullpen, Robbie Ray, the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner, and two very impressive young starters: Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. It became even better when the team acquired Luis Castillo, the Cincinnati Reds’ best pitcher, in July.
Their biggest weaknesses? Scoring runs and getting production from their second basemen. In the offseason, the Mariners acquired a power-hitting outfielder and a second baseman who twice won Gold Glove awards via trades. Those two additions, and having Castillo for a full season, should make the Mariners even better in 2023. None of the Mariners’ best players are old, and most of them are quite young.
Baltimore orioles enter the season looking good
The Orioles aren’t as far along as the Mariners, but their potential is suddenly quite high. After years of finishing last in their division, the Orioles surprised everyone by finishing the 2022 season with 30 more victories (in a 162-game season) than they had in the 2021 season. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the first player chosen in the 2019 amateur draft, thrived in his first MLB season.
Like the Mariners, the Orioles had an outstanding bullpen and a young star – Cedric Mullins – in center field. Unlike the Mariners, the Orioles have eight minor league players on the list of MLB’s Top 100 Prospects – the most of any MLB team. Three of those eight are ranked in the top 12, with shortstop/third baseman Gunnar Henderson (see below) ranked number one.
Just what MLB needs. Two more good teams in coastal cities.
5. keep an eye on the rookies this season
Have you heard of Anthony Volpe and Jordan Walker?
Less than one week before Opening Day, the Yankees announced that 21-year-old rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe had made the major league team and would be the team’s starting shortstop.
A few days before the Yankees’ announcement, the Cardinals announced that 20-year-old outfielder Jordan Walker had made the major league team. Neither Mr. Volpe (only 22 games at AAA, the highest minor league level) nor Mr. Walker (zero games at AAA) were expected to debut in the MLB without more minor league experience.
They both accelerated their MLB arrivals by delivering outstanding performances in this year’s preseason games. Mr. Walker and Mr. Volpe are the number four and number five ranked prospects, respectively, in the MLB’s Top 100 Prospects.
Other contenders for the Rookie of the Year Awards:
American League: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles, and Masataka Yoshida, Boston Red Sox. National League: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks, Eury Pérez, Miami Marlins, Sal Frelick, Brewers, and Miguel Vargas, Dodgers.
6. don’t sleep on these unsung potential heroes – and feel free to drop their names
Aaron Judge and the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout receive most of the media’s attention to individual players’ talents and accomplishments. Here are three particularly talented players whom you’ve probably never heard of:
- Tommy Edman, Cardinals second baseman;
- Alek Manoah, Blue Jays pitcher; and
- Austin Riley, Braves third baseman.
Drop any of these names in a conversation with a knowledgeable baseball fan, and you’ll immediately gain credibility.
7. grand finales for beloved players (and future Hall of Famers)
For the second consecutive season, we know that a future Hall of Famer will be playing in his final season.
Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter, announced that he will retire after the 2023 season. Mr. Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown (Highest Batting Average, Most Home Runs, Most Runs Batted In) in 2012, the first player to do so since 1967. He has exceeded both key career milestones for hitters: more than 3000 base hits and more than 500 home runs.
As of this writing, Mr. Cabrera has already played his final preseason game at the Tigers’ spring training home in Lakeland, Florida. MLB.com reported that he received a “warm standing ovation” from the fans. There will be more.
8. Under New management
The Rangers made the off season’s most significant managerial change when they hired Bruce Bochy. Mr. Bochy previously won three World Series championships as manager of the San Francisco Giants. Three other teams have new managers this season:
- Chicago White Sox: Pedro Grifol;
- Miami Marlins: Skip Schumaker; and
- Kansas City Royals: Matt Quataro.
If anyone argues that who serves as a team’s manager isn’t that important, remind them that in the 2022 season two managers – the Phillies’ Rob Thomson and the Blue Jays’ John Schneider – were hired mid-season and led their teams to the playoffs.
9. Wasn’t the WBC Great?
In case you missed it, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) was a two-week tournament in the middle of March with teams representing 20 countries.
takeaways from this year’s World Baseball Classic
It was full of highlights and excitement, but our main takeaway: how cool it was to see international competition on that scale. We saw a five-way tie in Pool A, two instant classics in the USA v. Venezuela quarterfinal and the Japan v. Mexico semifinal, and an exciting pitcher’s duel in the championship game between the USA and Japan. The WBC culminated in a showdown between two Angels’ teammates playing for their home countries, with Shohei Ohtani (Japan) striking out Mike Trout (USA) to secure Japan’s third WBC title.
some criticism, but overall a great showcase for global talent
The WBC’s critics point to its timing right before the MLB season, which risks preseason injuries to star players and reluctance from some players (and their respective MLB organizations) to participate.
Our response: there is not an ideal time to have the tournament, and injuries can happen during any game. Interrupting the season is awkward, as we’ve seen in the National Hockey League with the Winter Olympics Men’s Hockey competition.
Players also need the time to rest in the offseason. Moreover, MLB stars on three of the teams we predict will make the playoffs: Gavin Lux (Dodgers), Rhys Hoskins (Phillies), and Triston McKenzie (Guardians) suffered serious injuries in MLB preseason games this spring. These injuries did not receive the same critique as the injuries sustained by Jose Altuve (Astros) and Edwin Díaz (Mets) in the WBC.
good for the global game long-term
Baseball is an international game. This WBC was the best showcase of premiere talent on the international stage we have ever seen! We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did. The next WBC is scheduled for spring of 2026. We can’t wait!
10. schedule strength will create season-long storylines
In addition to the rule changes intended to make the games shorter and more exciting, MLB changed its scheduling formula for all 30 teams.
new scheduling formula
Each team will now play at least one series of games against every one of the other 29 teams during the season. This change is intended to promote MLB’s star players by allowing fans in every city to see them compete against their team, either in person (home) or on television (away.) What effect will the new balanced schedule have on competition? Will some teams benefit from the uniform strength of schedule this year?
follow this in the second half of the season
This is a story line worth following, particularly in the second half of the season as the race for the two Wild Card playoff berths in each league intensifies. Here are five other season-long story lines, the outcome of which will impact either MLB’s or a team’s results:
- Will the rule changes produce the desired results? Which teams and individual players will benefit most from the new rules?
- Will the Padres and Mets realize a return on their investments in high player salaries and large team payrolls? If they do, would their success force the other twenty-eight teams to reconsider their approaches?
- How will the 11 players who signed nine-figure agreements fare now that expectations for them (and their teams) have been raised?
- Can the Angels make the playoffs while Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout are still on the same team and in their prime playing years?
- Will the Angels trade Mr. Ohtani if they fall out of contention for a playoff berth, or risk losing him to another team as a free agent after the season ends?
These, and other questions, will be answered between now and the season’s end.
Vincent Thomas is a community college academic dean, a former large-firm attorney, and the brother of Dandelion Chandelier founder Pamela Thomas-Graham. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His favorite Major League Baseball team is the Detroit Tigers.
Michael Thomas is a data analyst, a 2022 Academic All-American in baseball at The College of Wooster, and the nephew of Dandelion Chandelier founder Pamela Thomas-Graham. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, too. His favorite Major League Baseball team is the Minnesota Twins.