Buck Showalter is preparing a 20-question quiz for his players when they gather as a full squad for the first time.
Of course, he is.
There are new rules coming to the majors — seminal changes — and the Mets manager wants to learn how much his players know about what is afoot. Plus, Showalter suspects that he will not receive a lot of A-plus grades. Thus, the results will make it easier to justify to his players why he is spending so much time drilling and re-drilling amid arguably the most important spring training for preparation reasons in MLB history.
Thus, for example, Showalter already has requested multiple pitch clocks — sorry, in the Orwellian world of MLB: pitch timers — arrayed at Clover Park and plans to have all of his pitchers throw even their bullpen sessions with a clock to make sure they train for the new rules: a pitch released in 15 seconds with no one on base and by 20 seconds with base runners.
“I don’t want it to be like we’re reinventing the wheel,” Showalter said. “Everybody better be preparing for what’s coming. Because the learning curve’s gonna be real short in spring.”
Ah, the brevity. As if the degree of difficulty were not enough in adjusting to a pitch clock, new pickoff rules and the elimination of extreme shifts — and variations within each. The World Baseball Classic also is coming this spring, meaning many of the best players will be leaving for chunks of time to first train then play for the United States or the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or one of the 20 teams participating.
Wait, it gets better. The tournament is being played under the old rules. So players will get to camp by edict a few days earlier than the actual report dates to begin working with the new rules. Then scores of these players will leave camp to play under the old rules. And if you are playing for one of the countries that reaches the March 21 final in Miami, you will return to your team about a week before the March 30 regular-season opener.
Lastly — because you knew there would be more — there will not be equal disruption across the landscape. The Astros, Dodgers and Mets, specifically, are expected to have either a lot of their players or a lot of their best players involved in the WBC.
It is fluid. Rosters are not locked in yet, but the Mets could lose two outfielders in Starling Marte (Dominican) and Brandon Nimmo (Italy), three relievers in Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) plus Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley (both U.S.), a catcher in Omar Narvaez (Venezuela), and two starters in Carlos Carrasco (Venezuela) and Jose Quintana (Colombia). It could also involve the prospect group, including Mark Vientos (Nicaragua) and starter Calvin Ziegler (Canada).
What could be the most unsettling for the Mets is potentially facing the in-spring departure of their starting infield — Pete Alonso (U.S.), Jeff McNeil (U.S.), Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico) and Eduardo Escobar (Venezuela). This at a time when the new rules will include limitations on shifts, notably that two infielders must be positioned on each side of the second-base bag and all infielders must have both feet on the infield dirt.
The maximum any organization can have leave is 15 players, and there is some power to withhold a player returning from an injury, such as Marte. But the Mets are going to have both more players and more essential players leave than perhaps any organization — the Yankees by comparison are not expected to have, say, Aaron Judge or Gerrit Cole leave, but are looking at losing a few players such as Nestor Cortes and Kyle Higashioka (both for the U.S.), among others.
“It sucks, but what are you going to do,” Showalter said. “Once the season starts, they’re not gonna wait for you to catch up. It’s a competitive advantage if you know what you’re doing. Those guys [his players], they’re not gonna like me by the end of spring [because of how much the new rules will be stressed].”
Showalter plans to maximize the time he has with his players to address the removal of extreme shifts. To work on pitchers delivering the ball quicker and for hitters, by rule now, to be ready with at least eight seconds left on the clock — “It is going to impact hitters more than pitchers, mark my word,” Showalter said. Max Scherzer, for example, said on “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman” podcast that he intends to use the pitch clock to his advantage by discomforting batters by changing how long he stays in the set or altering the time it takes to deliver each pitch.
Showalter plans to dedicate a half field to, among other items, assuring his players are comfortable with bigger bases and fewer pitcher disengagements of the rubber to, for example, throwing over to first to keep a runner close. Showalter intends to play some Mets vs. Mets practice games before exhibition games even begin to accentuate the new rules; plus all spring training contests will be played with the new rules — remember this is a learning period for the umpires too.
These are seismic changes designed to quicken the pace of action and shorten the length of games while — among other items — encouraging more daring on the bases.
Every club has and will continue to go to school to not only familiarize the players and staff with the rules, but to find loopholes to exploit. For example, a team cannot move an infielder off the dirt to short right field. But against a lefty pull hitter like, say, Joey Gallo, will teams move, say, the left fielder to that shifted position and essentially abandon having a left fielder?
MLB is bracing for something similar to when replay was expanded in 2014, and there was a lot of griping about its deployment and impact over the initial weeks and months before the furor subsided with comfort/familiarity. Because this encompasses literally every pitch, this should be more disruptive and eruptive, especially the first time a game is decided by, say, a ball being assessed for a pitcher working too slowly and it leads to the winning run.
Conversely, MLB says that 46 percent of current 40-man roster players have firsthand experience with at least the pitch clock because all of these rules have been test driven in the minors over the past few years. Plus, one reason that major leaguers are major leaguers is how adaptable they are. Ottavino, for example, told me last month that he bought a $30 timer on Amazon and set it up in the gym he constructed in Harlem and is using it to prepare. Most players are probably doing something similar already.
“It just was obviously a no-brainer,” Ottavino said. “We are going to play with the new rules, so you might as well get used to them, so you can be as prepared as possible — and try to get ahead of it. If I just show up in spring and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,” now that could be uncomfortable. And you know, there’s other things to work through at that time of year. So I’d rather just get ahead of it now. If I can get a feel for it now, it’ll be a good investment for about 30 bucks.”
Plus, he is certain to have one Buck ready to spend the time necessary to address the new rules with the Mets.
Leave A Comment