The offseason is coming to an end and spring training is right around the corner., then, next weekend, the Cactus League and Grapefruit League seasons begin. Real live baseball is less than two weeks away, even if the games are meaningless.
When exhibition games begin, fans and players alike will get their first look at MLB's newest rule changes. Specifically, there will be a pitch clock, larger bases, and a limit on extreme infield shifts. The new rules are all part of the league's efforts to improve pace of play and create more action on the field by rewarding contact and encouraging more aggressive base running.
There is another, much more subtle rule change coming as well. According to ESPN, MLB's joint competition committee has unanimously approved a rule change designed to reduce the number of position player pitching appearances. Last year, position players could pitch when the score was separated by at least six runs. Here's the new rule, per ESPN:
Under the new guidelines, leading teams have to be up by 10 or more runs in the ninth inning in order to let a position player pitch while trailing teams can use a position player anytime it's down by eight or more runs. Position players are also allowed to pitch anytime in extra innings.
Not including Shohei Ohtani, there were a record 132 position player pitching appearances in 2022, or slightly less than one per day. That number was 89 in 2021. There were 93 position player pitching appearances total from 2010-15, and there were 57 total during the entire 1990s. Putting a position player on the mound used to be the ultimate humiliation. Now it's a strategy.
Case in point: Hanser Alberto. The Los Angeles Dodgers put Alberto, a career utility infielder, on the mound 10 times last season, including eight times in wins. The new rule limiting position player pitchers to games their team is leading by at least 10 runs would have reduced that number to four, which is still a ton, but the new rule would have cut into the strategy quite a bit.
Point is, position players pitchers used to be a fun novelty, but now they're commonplace even though position players don't train to pitch and are at increased risk of injury, which is the MLBPA's primary concern. The union is also concerned about players getting dinged by defensive stats, which could hurt them in arbitration.
MLB and the MLBPA were motivated to get a new position player pitching rule in place that won't outlaw the practice entirely, but will reduce the number of times it happens overall. It happened and that's good news for the sport's competitive landscape.