Mr. Stats Notes: La Russa vs. Francona


The American League Central division is a tight race between three teams, with two of them meeting this weekend live on Peacock when the White Sox take on the Guardians in Cleveland Sunday at noon ET. This series — and their lone remaining series in Chicago beginning September 20 — will go a long way  toward crowning a Central champ.

Last year, the White Sox won the division by 13 games over Cleveland. This year, three teams (Guardians, White Sox, and Twins) were separated by just 2 games heading into Thursday.

Few people expected Cleveland to contend for the division this year. Andres Gimenez has been good all season, and on a tear recently, batting .393/.469/.571 in his last 16 games entering play Friday. And the bullpen has been solid, with James Karinchak, Sam Hentges, and Nick Sandlin holding consecutive scoreless inning streaks of 10+ IP each. The Cleveland bullpen overall has been one of baseball’s best in the second half (2.45 ERA in August).

RELATED: Guardians score 6 runs in 8th, rally past Tigers 8-4

The White Sox sputtered through much of the season, but have won 22 of 36 going into Thursday. Chicago had an eight-game losing streak in April and were 6.5 games back of first place on July 5. But they’re closing fast as we reach the three-quarter pole of the season — LF A.J. Pollock and RF Andrew Vaughn have gotten hot, and the pitching has been led by Dylan Cease (among the MLB leaders in ERA and K/9) and closer Liam Hendriks.

I wish I had a better feel for which of the three A.L. Central teams was going to win the division. It might come down to the final three games of the season, when the White Sox host the Twins in early October. The Guardians may have an advantage in that their last 9 games of the season will be at home, the last six coming against the lowly Royals.

But I can’t be certain if I favor the Guardians or the White Sox. Cleveland has 21 years of managerial experience at the helm in Terry Francona. Francona has won 1,845 games (including Wednesday, when his Guardians scored six runs in an inning after striking out three times!) and another 40 postseason games. He’s won two World Series championships. And guess what?  He doesn’t have nearly the experience that Chicago manager Tony La Russa has. Francona is 63 years old. LaRussa is in his 61st year of professional baseball. LaRussa has won 2,882 games (about 1,000 more) and 71 postseason victories. Tony has won three World Series championships (and don’t get him started about 1988 and 1990).

RELATED: 2022 MLB on Peacock schedule: How to watch, live stream Sunday morning baseball games online

After watching the recent Field of Dreams game in an Iowa cornfield, I considered other dream games I’d love to play out. It made me wish that this year’s tightly contested A.L. Central could be decided by a best-of-seven series played between former players of Francona and La Russa. In this dream series, the players would all be young and healthy and in the shape they were in when playing for Tito or Tony.

And which team would you favor?

Team La Russa

LF:  Rickey Henderson

SS:  Tim Anderson

RF:  Larry Walker

DH: Jose Canseco

1B:  Mark McGwire

C:   Carlton Fisk

3B:  Scott Rolen

CF:  Jim Edmonds

2B: Tony Phillips

At the training site for Team La Russa, I’m envisioning that the camaraderie and respect is apparent right away.

La Russa gathers the campers out from the different cornfields and gives a talk explaining his roster and lineups. “Those of you who have passed away in real life are going to get a little more playing time.  So, Tony Phillips will start at second base. Where’s Hendu (Dave Henderson)? You’ll start Game 1 in centerfield, but then I’m going to start one of the left-handed hitters — Jim Edmonds or Ray Lankford in the other games.” Henderson laughs, and jokes, “great, I’ll get Pedro!”. Tom Seaver is more than happy to be selected to start Game 3 and a potential Game 7.

MLB schedule 2022: Every Sunday morning baseball game on Peacock, matchups, what to know

La Russa spots one more player: Bob Welch. Bob, I didn’t forget about you; you’re going to start Game 4. I really love this kid I have now — Dylan Cease — but you deserve it. You won 27 games for me in 1990. Welch interrupts, “28 wins if you count beating Boston in the ALCS,” and the team erupts. Welch continues, “After this series, Tony, I have to get back quickly. I’m pitching for Tommy Lasorda’s team as well.”

Ozzie Smith tells the skipper that Tim Anderson should start at shortstop. The Wizard of Oz didn’t play regularly in 1996 for LaRussa, and he’s not going to play regularly now.

And La Russa has a sticky situation with his catchers. He tells Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk that Fisk will start with his old Chicago batterymate Seaver. In the other contests, Yadier Molina gets the call.

Mark McGwire will share first base with Albert Pujols, each getting starts. In right field, Tony is planning on starting Larry Walker, although he gave plenty of consideration to Dave Parker. Reggie Jackson, like Ozzie, only played his final season for Tony and decides not to stay. Dusty Baker played only the second half of the 1986 season for La Russa — Dusty’s final year — but he loves taking Reggie’s roster spot for the final outfielder on Team La Russa.

In the ‘pen, there are three Hall of Fame closers, but Goose Gossage will be a set-up man to Dennis Eckersley. John Smoltz, like Ozzie Smith, barely played for La Russa so he’ll be the long man.

La Russa will start Dave Stewart, Adam Wainwright, and Seaver in the first three games. Welch gets the Game 4 start. That means there is no spot in the rotation for Steve Carlton. Carlton barely played for Tony, starting 10 games as a 41-year-old in 1986. But La Russa loves having “Lefty” on the team to pitch to one batter — David Ortiz. 

There’s one other sticky situation in this game. Scott Rolen played — and played exceptionally well — for both managers. La Russa says he would be happy if Rolen played for Team Francona, especially with Albert Pujols (110 games at 3B) or Carney Lansford available.

Oh, and La Russa feels terrible, but on this historically capable squad, it is going to be impossible to find at-bats for LHB Harold Baines and RHB Jose Abreu. In 1984, Baines led the league in slugging, something Abreu did in 2014 under Robin Ventura and in 2020 under Rick Renteria.

“Hey Abreu, go out and win a World Series for me like Big Mac and Albert have done, then we’ll consider it,” the manager joked. Let’s face it, standards are high.

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Meanwhile, at Camp Francona, there was optimism despite the specter of the opposing team.

Team Francona

SS:  Francisco Lindor

RF:  Michael Brantley

LF:  Manny Ramirez

1B:  David Ortiz

DH:  Jose Ramirez

3B:  Scott Rolen

2B:  Dustin Pedroia

C:    Carlos Santana

CF:  Johnny Damon

Terry gathered his troops and took a less serious approach. “For those of you who were with me in 2011, there will be no fried chicken and beer in the dugouts!” which brought a hearty laugh to everyone.

Like La Russa, Francona is more than willing to give extended playing time to deceased players, meaning Darren Daulton will see time in the outfield.

“I hope you had a chance to check the starting lineup. I seem to always have a Jason on my team, and I love it. Jason Varitek (career high .872 OPS in 2004), you’re going to catch most of the time. I’m just going to catch Carlos in Game 1. And Jason Kipnis (931 hits for Francona, third most after Papi and Manny) is going to play a lot in the middle infield. Andres Gimenez might also find his way into the starting lineup. Man, Pedy (Dustin Pedroia), you have some real competition.

Francona needs help from the bench, so his reserves will include outfielder Gabe Kapler (to pinch-hit), and infielders Dave Roberts (to pinch-run) and Alex Cora (to steal signs — only kidding, couldn’t resist). And Rajai Davis is asked to be ready, to hit in a big spot late in a game.

RELATED: Carpenter hits HR, Francona ejected as Tigers beat Guardians

If this team is going to beat Team La Russa, it must be because of the depth of starting pitchers he’s worked with throughout his career. Francona has Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez to start the first two games, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to start the next two. “Although we may piggyback Jon Lester with Carrasco in Game 4”, adds Tito.

Jonathan Papelbon is the co-closer, along with Emmanuel Clase. Tim Wakefield, Shane Bieber, John Lackey, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller round out the staff.

I know Team LaRussa is the stronger team. My goodness, Tony managed 12 Hall of Famers, and that doesn’t include McGwire, Canseco, Parker, Pujols, and Molina. But even if Team Francona fell behind 0-3 in games, I wouldn’t count them out.

Not sure in real life if Francona’s team has as much talent as La Russa’s. The White Sox have an estimated payroll of $196 million. The Guardians have an estimated payroll of $69 million.

But I would never count out Tito.

How to Watch White Sox vs Guardians on Peacock

All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez and the first-place Cleveland Guardians host 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu and the Chicago White Sox in a crucial divisional showdown from Progressive Field on MLB Sunday Leadoff live this Sunday, August 21 at Noon ET on Peacock.

How to Watch:

Date Show Time (ET) Platform
Sun., Aug. 21 MLB Sunday Leadoff Pregame 11:30 a.m. Peacock
Sun., Aug. 21 White Sox vs. Guardians Noon Peacock

A Cubs vs Marlins matchup should evoke memories beyond Bartman


On Sunday morning, at 12:05 pm eastern, the Cubs will play the Marlins in a game that can be streamed on Peacock. The Marlins won only 69 games last year, and the Cubs won only 74. Neither the Fish nor the Cubbies have finished with a winning record since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Both teams have gotten off to better starts in 2023 led by their new middle infielders:  Miami’s new second baseman Luis Arraez and the Cubs’ new shortstop Dansby Swanson.

There was a time — 20 years ago — that these franchises met in the 2003 National League Championship Series. When we look back on that series, we’re reminded that one very good thing about Arraez and Swanson is that their names are different. In the 2003 NLCS, the Cubs shortstop was Alex Gonzalez. The Marlins shortstop was also named Alex Gonzalez. One of them had a 16-year career, the other one had a 13-year career. The one that batted .125 (3-24 AB) in the NLCS wasn’t the goat. The one that batted .286/.333/.679 with 3 HR, 7 RBI and a 1.012 OPS in the series was the goat.

The one name that people remember in the Cubs’ collapse in Game 6 of that NLCS didn’t play any seasons in the majors. The one name everyone remembers was Steve Bartman. But for both teams, the path to get there and the games played in the Series itself involved so much more than Bartman.

Chicago was a charter member of the National League in 1876, when Ulysses S. Grant was the President of the United States. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was the President. The Cubs hadn’t even been in a World Series since 1945.

The Marlins were an expansion franchise in 1993, when the United States had a 47-year-old President named Bill Clinton. They won the World Series in 1997, the first Wild Card team to win the World Series.

In 2002, the Cubs lost 95 games and finished 30 games out of first place. It was the third time in four seasons Chicago had lost at least 95 games. Midway through the 2002 season, the team fired manager Don Baylor. Following the 2002 season, the Cubs hired one of Baylor’s close friends, Dusty Baker. Baker had just led the San Francisco Giants to the World Series. A poor relationship with the team’s managing partner, Peter Magowan, however, led to Baker’s departure. Dusty wasn’t out of work long – not even two weeks – before accepting the Chicago position.

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Baker’s Giants were so close to winning the 2002 World Series. The Giants led 3-2 in games and led Game 6 by a 5-0 score entering the bottom of the seventh. Scott Spiezio hit a 3-run homer in the seventh. The Giants — five outs away in the bottom of the eighth — couldn’t hold their lead and lost Game 6 and then Game 7 as well. Baker didn’t know it at the time, but that would be just the start of several heartbreaking finishes.

Dusty went from managing Barry Bonds to managing Sammy Sosa.

Baker took advantage of Sosa’s offense, combined with three outstanding arms (Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano) to win 88 games, enough to take the N.L. Central.

The Marlins started the 2003 season with Jeff Torborg as manager, but when the team got off to a slow start, he was replaced by 72-years old Jack McKeon.

The Florida Marlins got a kickstart from their new manager, the old McKeon, but they also were spurred by 21-years old Dontrelle Willis, who was called up May 9. The Marlins were 10-games under .500 on May 22 (19-29) but Willis became unstoppable. He was 9-1 after his win on July 13. He would start 27 games, and the Fish won 19 of them.

RELATED: 2023 MLB on Peacock Schedule

The Marlins were 75-49 under McKeon. The five starters — Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Mark Redman, Josh Beckett, and Willis — started 143 games and combined for more than 890 innings. And the team had a catcher that made the entire pitching staff better.

Prior to the 2003 season, the Florida Marlins were one of the few teams to show interest in free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez. He was coming off 12 seasons as a workhorse catcher in Texas, and yet at 31 was only able to command a one-year, $10 million dollar contract with the Marlins, due to his herniated disks in his lower back and his balky knees. Was it worth it? Rodriguez made the most of his one season with the Marlins (including the postseason, he caught in 155 games and had 655 Plate Appearances).

And he was involved in nearly every big play or rally during the postseason. The Marlins were heavy underdogs against the San Francisco Giants in the Division Series. In the Marlins’ crucial 11-inning come-from-behind win over the Giants in Game 3, it was Ivan that drove in the winning run. In Game 4, I-Rod scored the tying run on a collision at the plate, then withstood a collision to tag J.T. Snow for the final out in the game (and series) after a perfect throw from Jeff Conine and an amazing catch from I-Rod.

And that set the scene for what happened in the NLCS between the lovable loser Cubs, and the out-of-nowhere Marlins.

Game 1: The Cubs were down 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth, when Sammy Sosa tied the game with a dramatic home run. But in the top of the 11th, Mike Lowell hit a go-ahead homer and the Fish held on to win 9-8.

RELATED: Playing Fast Ball in 2023 – Breaking Down New Rules Ahead of MLB Season

The Cubs won the next three games, 12-3, 5-4 (11 innings), and 8-3. All they needed was one win in the next three games to win their first pennant since 1945.

Game 5: Josh Beckett threw a shutout in the 4-0 victory. He went nine innings, giving up two hits, 1 BB, 11 K, and needing 115 pitches. He was brilliant after getting rocked in the series opener.

Game 6: Chicago held a 3-0 lead in the 8th inning of Game 6 before the Fish plated eight runs, behind two unusual circumstances. The first being the Steve Bartman play; and the other, often overshadowed, was the error on a potential double-play ball by the slick fielding Alex Gonzalez. 

In that fateful top of the 8th, the Cubs had a 95% probability of winning Game 6 and advancing to the Series. But the Curse of the Billy Goat was strong that night.

Mark Prior (now the pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers) was on the hill for the Cubs and had retired eight Marlins in a row after getting the leadoff man in the 8th. But then Juan Pierre doubled, sending Luis Castillo to the plate. Castillo hit a foul ball that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou attempted to catch near the wall, but fan Steve Bartman deflected it. There was no fan interference called. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out of the inning.

Instead, there was a meltdown of epic proportions.

Prior threw a wild pitch to walk Castillo and send Pierre to third. Ivan Rodriguez singled in a run, to cut the Chicago lead to 3-1. And then Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by Alex Gonzalez. Derrek Lee doubled in two runs to tie the game and send Prior to the showers. The Marlins would eventually score 8 runs in the inning on just 5 hits.

Dusty, in hindsight, should have replaced Prior after the Pierre double, and almost certainly after the 9-pitch walk to Castillo. Would it have mattered? Who knows?

The Marlins won Game 6 by a score of 8-3.

RELATED: Why the time is now to add Rangers’ Will Smith

And in Game 7: The Cubs led 5-3 after 4 innings. But in the top of the fifth, Cubs ace Kerry Wood faced Ivan Rodriguez with 1-out and 2-on. Rodriguez doubled in a run. He would later score the go-ahead run in the inning on Derrek Lee’s base hit.

Josh Beckett came in the game in the bottom of the fifth, just two days after his 115-pitch shutout. He pitched four scoreless innings, giving up just one run and one hit (a homer off the bat of Troy O’Leary). The Marlins added runs in the 6th and 7th; and won the game 9-6 to advance to the World Series.

People should remember Ivan Rodriguez and Beckett and Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera when they think about that series. Instead, they are reminded of Bartman, the symbol of the “bad news Bears (Cubs)”.

The fates were (eventually) kind to the Cubs and their fanbase in 2016; and to Dusty Baker in 2022.

As for the Marlins, they should be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their World Series title.

But it’s almost a whisper. Maybe it’s because the two genuine Hall of Famers on that squad (Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera) barely played for the Marlins. Ivan played 20 of his 21 seasons elsewhere; and Miggy played the last 16 of his 21 seasons in Detroit.

Even in 2003, the fans in South Florida were not that into this team. The attendance was 1.3 million, 15th most among the 16 NL teams that season.

The Marlins and Cubs will always be connected to that October series in 2003. You can blame a fan — or a Curse — or give credit to a gutty team, the Florida Marlins.

How to watch Cubs vs Marlins on Peacock

Date Show Time (ET) Platform
Sun., Apr. 30 MLB Sunday Leadoff Pregame 11:30 a.m. Peacock
Sun., Apr. 30 Cubs vs. Marlins 12:05 p.m. Peacock

Playing Fast Ball in 2023: Breaking Down New Rules Ahead of MLB Season


Baseball has always occupied most of my brain cells from April through October. In 2022, the last four games of the World Series were played in November — including a no-hitter in Game 4 and one of the most compelling Fall Classic games you could ever hope to see in the Astros’ 3-2 victory in Game 5. And just 139 days later, on March 21, the World Baseball Classic final produced Team Japan’s 3-2 victory in a legendary matchup that culminated with Mike Trout striking out against Shohei Ohtani.

In Game 5 of the World Series, the Astros held on because of defensive plays made by first baseman Trey Mancini (smothering a lined shot off the bat of Kyle Schwarber that stranded the game-tying run at third base and preserving Houston’s one run lead) and outfielder Chas McCormick (who robbed J.T. Realmuto with a sensational leaping catch at the wall in right center).

Those two defensive plays were baseball at its best and show how exciting the game can be when the ball is put into play.

And that’s why I’m so excited about the 2023 season. Baseball has new rules that will put more action (great defensive plays, stolen bases, doubles, triples) in the games. And it will create a crisper game that takes all the dead moments out.

RELATED: When is the 2023 MLB Opening Day?

Overview of new rules for 2023 MLB season

The three new rules involve:

  1. The use of a pitch timer (pitchers have 15 seconds with bases empty, 20 with men on base…before the Timer reaches zero, the pitcher must begin the natural movement associated with the delivery of the ball to the batter)
  2. Shift restrictions (two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base; and all four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield), and…
  3. Bigger bases (it’s a safety issue, but also decreases the distance between bases, hopefully igniting more stolen bases).

RELATED: MLB clarifies rules to allow pitch clock delays

Let me explain why the rules are necessary by using the Astros’ combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series. In that nine-inning game, there were 18 half-innings. In 17 of those half-innings, there was no score and barely any action. Batters were .089 (5-56 AB) in the game, save for the top of the fifth, when the Astros went 5-7 AB with a sacrifice fly and scored five runs.

Four Astros pitchers needed 141 pitches to complete their combined no-hitter and the game took 3:25. It’s remarkable: the Phillies’ batters faced 141 pitches, and put exactly 13 in play (four groundouts, nine flyouts). For comparison, let’s examine the only other no-hitter in World Series history. Don Larsen needed only 97 pitches to throw his perfect game, and only went to three balls on a hitter just once. The time of that game was 2:06.

Houston starter Cristian Javier also threw exactly 97 pitches—but he only worked the first six innings. Javier faced 20 batters, and struck out nine of them, while walking two. He was masterful, but the nation watched a game of “pitch and catch.”

Impact of the pitch clock in 2023

The average time of a major league game in 2022 was 3:07, down slightly from the year before. Baseball’s new rules should bring that down about 25 minutes, which is significant. Call me crazy, but you shouldn’t be able to hard boil an egg in less time than seeing “batted ball events” in a major league game. The pitch timer will fix things and bring a better pace to the game. The pitch timer worked in the minor leagues. The pitch timer has worked in Spring Training.

RELATED: Which teams are best bets to make World Series?

Will the new tempo speed up some of the slowest workers last year? You bet. According to StatCast Baseball Savant 2022 Leaderboards, relievers Jonathan Loaisiga, and Giovanny Gallego each had a Pitch Tempo of 25.8 seconds with the bases empty, with Kenley Jansen right behind at 25.6 seconds. That measures the median time between pitches. The MLB average with bases empty was 18.1 seconds. For added context, StatCast labeled any pitch thrown after longer than 30 seconds to be “Slow.” Jansen was “Slow” on 22.3% of his pitches last year with no one on base. Loaisiga was “Slow” on 21.2% of pitches with bases empty. And Gallego was “Slow” on 20.6%. With runners on-base, Gallegos was “Slow” on 58.2% of his pitches, Jansen 57.4%. Now, this is not measuring the same timing as the MLB pitch timer. But it’s an example of needing pitchers to pick up the pace.

Keith Hernandez in his 2018 Memoir, I’m Keith Hernandez, writes on Page 131:

Three hours for an average game is not good for baseball…The game was meant to be played at a faster clip, and if it is allowed to slow down further, I fear baseball will become a bore: a tedious exercise of managers and general managers trying to micromanage every second of the game. Why do they do it? Because the game, like everything else, has gotten so hyper-analyzed that those in charge…mitigate risk at the expense of the game’s pace….

While baseball was never meant to be played at a frenetic pace, there is, again, a rhythm to it, and with all the stopping and starting—from the batters stepping out of the box for days on end; to pitchers, particularly relievers, who take an eternity between pitches; to 3-2 counts ad nauseam…that rhythm is under siege.”

And the pitch timer will not only cut time but increase action. Will there be some controversial violations? Yes! Will a batter be called for a third strike to end a game merely because he wasn’t in the plate quick enough? Yes! Will a pitcher be charged with a ball that walks in a run to end a game, because of a pitch timer violation? Yes! I hope so. It will create chaos and controversy and it will become part of the game.

Don’t NFL teams get charged with penalties for not being ready in time? Yes, sometimes in crucial junctures of postseason games.

The number of violations per game has gone down with each week. Baseball saw that happen last year in the minors. Baseball saw it this spring, when there were more than 2 violations per game the first week, and gradually the average has been cut in half.

And no one in MLB is trying to play “gotcha” with anyone. MLB sent what is expected to be the final series of clarifications on the new rules before the season starts. There are seven points to the memo, mostly involving the pitch timer. Basically, the clock will no longer be immediately reset when a batter is brushed back or swings so hard he loses his footing and/or helmet. When PitchCom malfunctions, teams should now be able to address that without an automatic ball being called or having to use a formal mound visit. If a pitcher dashes to cover first base and needs additional time, he’ll have it.

You know, common sense will dictate.

RELATED: 2023 MLB on Peacock Schedule: How to watch, live stream Sunday morning baseball games online

These new rules (pitch timer, shift restrictions, bigger bases) represent the biggest changes to the rules since 1973 and the beginning of the designated hitter in the American League (In 1972, A.L. pitchers batted .145 with .366 OPS and hit 22 HR all year. In 1973, DHs hit 20 HR in April alone, and batted .238 with .657 OPS).

Baseball was always loathe to change rules, but in the last few years they have incorporated changes that have improved the game. In 2022, they made a rule to benefit Shohei Ohtani, tweaking the designated hitter rule. That tweak stated that if a team has its starting pitcher in its lineup as the DH and pulls him from the game, the player can remain in the batting order even after he leaves the mound.

Shohei had 666 Plate Appearances last year, thanks in part to the new rule.

It sounds simple to adjust rules that allow the sport to showcase its stars and their athleticism. I give MLB all the credit in the world for making it happen.

Because of deep analytic departments that have grown exponentially, defenses have learned how to defend where the ball is likely to be hit. Shifts have increased every year against left-handed batters. Last season, MLB teams positioned their infielders in an overshift (more than two fielders on one side of second base) on 55% of plate appearances against left-handed batters.

Left-Handed Batters OPS

2022:   .697
2021:   .653
2020:   .723
2019:   .764
2018:   .736
2017:   .760

Some players that will likely see their slash line improve greatly with new rules:

Trent Grisham, Padres
Joey Gallo, Twins
Anthony Rizzo, Yankees     

Trent Grisham should benefit from a host of things this year. He took forever to get into the batter’s box and should be more locked in this season. The shift restrictions should help him, as he batted only .184/.284/.341 a year ago with a .231 BABIP. And less divisional games in pitcher’s parks in LA and SF should also help Grisham.

Like Grisham, Gallo can’t help but improve upon woeful numbers. He batted .160 last year. And Anthony Rizzo is coming off a terrific season, but his .216 BABIP is indicative that defenses knew how to play him. Rizzo batted .292 in 2016 and .293 in 2019. He batted .224 in 2022. Watch that batting average skyrocket.

RELATED: Now 40, Justin Verlander still looks strong this spring for Mets

Some players that will likely see their stolen bases improve greatly with new rules:

Tommy Edman, Cardinals
Trea Turner, Phillies
Myles Straw, Guardians

The bigger bases mean there is slightly less distance to cover, and I fully expect that stolen base percentage in the majors (75% a year ago) will go up (especially since pitchers will be limited in pickoff throw attempts). The three players I think will benefit were pretty damn efficient with the old bases, leading the majors in w/SB (Weighted stolen bases by Fangraphs). Edman was 32-35 in steals a year ago. Turner was 27-30. And Straw was 21-22. And now, they’ll have a bit of an advantage. Trea Turner has had seasons where he stole 43 and 46 bases; and with the prolonged absence of Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies will not hit nearly as many home runs and may need Turner to steal additional bases.

One more bold prediction for 2023

Despite the fact that only one player last year stole more than 40 bases (Miami’s Jon Berti, 41), it is my feeling that we will see a new member of the 40/40 club (a player hitting 40+HR and stealing 40+ bases) this year. The exclusive club has only four members. Jose Canseco in 1988, Barry Bonds in 1996, Alex Rodriguez in 1998, and Alfonso Soriano in 2006.

This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. (41 HR, 37 SB in 2019) does it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies’ Trea Turner (after his performance in the World Baseball Classic, the $300 million dollars the Phillies agreed to pay him may turn out to be a bargain) gets to 40/40. And if Shohei Ohtani wanted to join the 40/40 club, I’m sure it would be attainable.

There are so many great storylines that will emerge in 2023. So many depend in part on which teams are best prepared to adjust and take advantage of the new rules.

The very core of baseball is time and rhythm. It should be a beautiful rhythm. Baseball is back, for the start of the 148th season since 1876. For the first time, baseball is on the clock.

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Be sure to check out NBC’s Circling the Bases Fantasy Baseball podcast for the latest baseball analysis, injury news, and storylines surrounding the 2023 MLB season!