Throughout Spring Training there has been much attention paid to the new playing rules implemented for the 2023 season by Major League Baseball. While the pitch clock, larger bases and banning the shift have been the alterations that have garnered the most attention, there is one that has flown somewhat more under the radar – the rubber disengagement rule.

From MLB, here is the rule:

“If the pitcher makes a pickoff attempt at any base, feints a pickoff, or otherwise steps off the rubber with runners on base he shall be charged with a Disengagement. To ensure that pitchers do not circumvent the Pitch Timer regulations by stepping off the rubber, pitchers at all PDL levels shall be limited to a total of two Disengagements per plate appearance with runners on base. … [At] the Major League level … a pitcher’s Disengagement count will reset if a runner advances during a plate appearance.”

This wrinkle to the pitch clock rule has been a game changer in the Minor Leagues over the past two seasons, and it is MLB’s hope that the results will translate to the Major League level as well.

The purpose of the new rules is to infuse the game with more action – less idle time between pitches, more balls in play and more exciting plays. One such exciting play that MLB has identified has been stolen base attempts.

Steal attempts across the majors have been generally in decline since the ‘80s, and the rubber disengagement rule sets about radically reversing that course.

If what has been seen in the minor leagues is any indication, fans should prepare themselves for a significantly different style of baseball in 2023 than they have seen since the Whiteyball St. Louis Cardinals teams of the mid-80s.

For evidence, let’s turn to the two Triple-A leagues: the International League and the Pacific Coast League. In 2021, both leagues had a pitch clock and used the bigger 18” bases for the first half of the season. In 2022, they had a shorter pitch clock, bigger bases, and the two disengagement rule.

2021 AAA East 1895 607 2502 0.757 0.739 0.975
2022 IL 2820 755 3575 0.789 0.9457 1.199
2021 AAA West 857 280 1137 0.754 0.776 0.886
2022 PCL 1341 487 1728 0.776 0.748 1.158

If you are just looking at the raw numbers, it is important to note that in 2022, Triple-A leagues played a 150-game season while in 2021 they played just a 130-game slate because of the delayed start to the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The important numbers to look at are the overall success rate and number of attempts (both successful and otherwise) per game. Also, it is important to note that this is per team-game (i.e. – A game between Syracuse and Buffalo counts as two team-games, one for each team).

The lesson is that with the only significant change being the introduction of the two disengagement rule, stolen base attempts skyrocketed across the minor leagues, as did the success rate.

Anecdotally, it wasn’t even that runners got brazen after two throws over and would automatically run, but because pitchers had to be cognizant of the rules, they had to use their disengagements more judiciously. That led to runners being more aggressive in their leads and jumps, and being successful at a better rate.

If we see an even less extreme version of this translated to the Major League level in 2023, that could be a change that benefits the Mets offensively. A team limited in its power hitting, but with a trio of guys in Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo who could benefit from running more (granted, Nimmo has stolen 23 bases in seven MLB seasons, and never stole much in the minors), the Mets may be the team in the National League that is best-positioned to benefit from an environment of higher steal numbers.

And if that comes true, despite the lack of a major offensive acquisition this winter, the Mets offense could be significantly better in 2023.

2 comments on “Rubber disengagement: The X-factor of MLB’s rule changes

  • BrianJ

    Eh, not really a fan of bringing back stolen bases in a major way.

    If we’re going to make it easier to steal, perhaps there should be an additional penalty for getting thrown out. If you’re thrown out stealing – maybe you should have to be removed from the game.

  • NYM6986

    Ricky Henderson stole 1,406 bases and was caught stealing 335 times. With the exception of being picked off, if the bases were six inches closer back when he played, would he ever have been caught stealing? Base running is a lost art, especially since most teams don’t play small ball anymore trying to scratch out some runs. Would love to see our guys run more, but they need to be retaught how to take a lead and how to better read pitchers. That’s what a good base stealing coach could bring to this team.

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