The grand game of baseball’s going to look a little bit different in 2022 — well, not so much if you’re a minor-league connoisseur or spend most your time watching Rickey Henderson highlights, but there’ll be an adjustment for some of us. The Yankees stand to be affected significantly, in different ways according to each individual rule change.
Larger bases probably won’t do much for any specific team, but Yankee pitchers are going to have to speed up their deliberation with the installation of the pitch clock. Gerrit Cole hates to waste time, but he also hates interruptions to his scripted routine. Tough to see how this will net out.
Base stealing is also about to get much easier, with a per-AB limit on pickoff throws entering the game’s lexicon. The Yankees … don’t do too much of that, but it’ll be much easier for Tim Locastro to grab a roster spot moving forward if he survives the offseason.
And then there’s the shift. Much to the chagrin of some of the game’s great hitters, the “infielder up the middle” is not going away, and the liners they’ve long been taught to hit will still be outs, as long as the shortstop can handle a hotshot.
The right side of the infield is less likely to be absolutely stacked, though, leading to an easier path for ground-ball singles from the likes of slow, left-handed hitters who love to pull.
According to one MLB executive who spoke to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark (subscription required), the names who immediately come to mind who could benefit include two players in the Yankees’ orbit in Anthony Rizzo and Matt Carpenter, as well as hulking slugger Kyle Schwarber, long on Brian Cashman’s radar before he signed long-term in Philadelphia.
Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo and Matt Carpenter will benefit from the shift changes in 2022
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The story doesn’t end there for Carpenter (a free agent who the Yankees should definitely bring back) and Rizzo (who could theoretically opt out of his Yankees contract). Those in the know predict that the league’s “smartest teams” are already plotting workarounds to the limit on infield shifts, including the potential use of two-outfield sets, with one man in center, one in right, and another in shallow right, where an old-fashioned “shifting infielder” would sit.
If the batter plinks one to the left side in that scenario, they’d receive a double or triple. But it hasn’t happened very often these days with the current shift, now has it? Exactly. Tougher than it looks.
Rizzo has battled a back issue and a low batting average this season, but his usually-stalwart defense, coupled with a near-career-high 31 homers, have made him an extremely valuable player. Carpenter, it goes without saying, exceeded expectations and then some before hitting the IL with a poorly-timed foot fracture.
Both men should’ve factored into 2023’s play even before these rule changes entered play. Now, knowing they’ve both survived career-killing infield adjustments and are about to reach the other side, the Yankees should be inclined to keep these partnerships going.