Ian Happ believes players eventually will adapt to MLB’s sweeping rules changes designed to increase action and accelerate the pace of play starting in 2023.
“We’ve adapted to rules changes since the start of the game,” Happ said of a pitch clock, a ban on defensive shifts, enlarging the bases and limiting pickoff moves. “We’ll find a way.
“[But] there are definitely some concerns on the players’ side.”
Happ, the Cubs’ representative to the MLB Players Association, thinks the majority of the 11-person committee, which included six ownership representatives, moved too quickly for the players’ tastes.
Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. criticized a rule that will limit disengagements from the mound via pickoff throws or step-offs, calling the change “a colossal mistake.”
“I think that’s impacting the game,” Leiter said. “That’s impacting the outcome of games.”
Leiter believes the majority of the changes put the pitchers at a disadvantage. He did agree that putting a pitch clock in the minors this season helped pitchers work more quickly. MLB rules will put a 15-second limit between pitches when the bases are empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base.
But Leiter, who made six starts at Triple-A Iowa, said one opposing team told their batters not to step in the batter’s box until there were five seconds left, limiting the time for pitchers to shake off a signal and still throw a pitch.
“And that’s a competitive advantage that has nothing to do with the game,” Leiter said. “And it’s a nuisance.”
The new rules state the batter must have both feet in the box and be “alert” at the eight-second mark, with the pitcher starting his delivery by the expiration or face a ball as a penalty. A batter would be assessed a strike if he doesn’t comply in the allotted time.
But Leiter was more perturbed by a limit on pickoffs and step-offs to two for each plate appearance, with a reset if the runner advances. A pitcher would be assessed a balk if he’s unsuccessful with his third pickoff throw.
Cubs starter Adrian Sampson agreed that minor-league pitchers have adjusted to a pitch clock but speculated that “some of the stuff will not play at this level. There’s too much at stake. Some of the stuff will get adjusted.”
Happ believes the new rules could be amended if there’s sufficient data to support alterations.
Happ, a switch hitter, and Cubs manager David Ross believe the new rule requiring two infielders on each side of the second-base bag with both feet on the infield dirt will help certain left-handed pull hitters.
“I think it’ll be a more appealing game visually,” Happ said. “You’re going to have guys like [Kyle] Schwarber and [Anthony] Rizzo smash the ball at the right side at 115 mph. Those are going to be hits, and those should be hits.”
A violation would result in the offense taking the play or receiving an automatic ball.
The only rule change that the committee, which also included four players and umpire Bill Miller, unanimously agreed to was the enlarging of the bases from 15 to 18 inches, with the belief that the larger size will reduce collisions and increase stolen bases.
“From what MLB has told us, that’s what fans want to see,” Happ said.
Leiter, however, needed some convincing.
“I would hope to have our best interests in mind in trying to make the game better,” Leiter said. “But if I was a person paying to come to the games with my family, I don’t necessarily need it to be over 26 minutes earlier.
“I would just leave the game early if I need it to be over earlier or pick a different day to go to the game. I’d have more time to be there.
“I think the majority of fans might agree with me. Who knows?”