Gather ’round the amazing mystical magic baseball, an all-knowing oracle providing answers to the most burning questing facing Major League Baseball today. The process is simple, ask a yes or no question, consult the magic baseball, and await answers from the baseball gods. Some have called it clairvoyance, others would rather consult their ouija board, but the magic baseball is an otherworldly and powerful force not to be ignored.
Will We See Any Spring Training Baseball in the Month of March?
In a normal baseball season, March is a month filled with renewed hope and optimism. How will the big offseason free-agent signing mesh with the rest of the team? Is your favorite team’s ace fully recovered from his offseason surgery? How about the All-Star outfielder’s knee? Spring training gives us, the fans an appetizer for the regular season, and Rob Manfred and the owners are starving us of baseball.
The reason we are in this situation is the League decided to lock the players out on December 2nd of 2021. At that time, Manfred addressed baseball fans with the following;
“Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season, We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”
The “jumpstart” the lockout was supposed to provide was non-existent, as Manfred and the owners sat idly by for over 40 days before starting negotiations. The plan all along was to “run out the clock” and create a sense of urgency, hoping the MLBPA would cave to the owner’s demands. The players have held a strong united front and have prepared for the work stoppage, as it benefits the long-term betterment of the game.
After March 31st’s Opening Day games (as well as the entirety of the first two series) being canceled last week, and another week’s worth of spring training games canceled on Friday, the earliest we could see Spring Training games is March 18th. We could still see Spring Training games in late March if an agreement were to be reached soon, and getting the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues started in their respective communities before the end of March is vital for the local economies. Plus, it is far preferable to inter-squad matchups played in mostly empty major league stadiums.
The Magic Baseball Says: Most Likely
Will There be Regular-Season Baseball in the Month of April?
The MLB owners never wanted to play games in April, and that is why they have yet to exhibit any “good faith” when it comes to negotiations. For many teams, April is one of their least profitable months, and when the almighty dollar rules every decision, it was easy for the owners to lock out the players and cancel games. With the exception of Opening Day, April is one of the slowest months for attendance, and for certain teams, the weather is sometimes a hindrance during those first few weeks of the season.
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Rob Manfred and the owners are actively working to make sure the lockout doesn’t end before they want it to. Based on their actions and language, missing the better part of April is all a part of the plan. Taking a week-by-week approach to canceling games is just a ploy to put pressure on the MLBPA by imposing deadlines on them and refusing to negotiate.
In all likelihood, teams and players will require at least 4 weeks of spring training/summer camp to be prepared for Opening Day; this is most important for pitchers to build up stamina and stretch out their arms. The owners won’t want to cut into their warm weather profits, so expect an agreement to be reached in the next few weeks for an Opening Day around mid-to-late April, but no later than May 1st.
The Magic Baseball Says: Outlook Good
Just because MLB isn’t playing ball doesn’t mean there isn’t any baseball being played. If you are looking for some baseball action to tide you over until the MLB regular season, the NCAA baseball season is underway and there are some very exciting players taking the field. NC State freshman Tommy White hit three home runs, including a grand slam, in his first college game, and University of Tennessee RHP Ben Joyce has routinely hit 103mph on the radar gun and has touched 104mph with his fastball.
The NPB kicks off their season on March 25th and the KBO follows on April 2nd, both leagues are currently in their respective versions of spring training, though finding a convenient time and a reliable live stream are less accessible for U.S.-based fans than MLB games.
Will MLB Ban The Shift?
On March 3rd, Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported the League wants to implement three rule changes for the 2022 season; increasing the size of the bases, incorporating a pitch clock, and banning the shift. These issues haven’t made the headlines as much as the CBA negotiations (or lack thereof) this offseason, but they could greatly impact the game. Considering the source and the timing of the report, this may be an effort by MLB to change the discussion surrounding the core economics of the game and distract from the fact that the owner’s greed has cost us, the fans, any possibility of a full 162-game season.
The three rule changes that MLB wants to implement: Banning shifts, a pitch clock, and oversized bases can not begin before the 2024 season unless the union agrees. MLB wants the rules to go into effect in 2023.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 3, 2022
Larger bases and the pitch clock are both widely considered good for the sport, as they lead to a reduction of injuries resulting from being stepped on and an increased pace of play, respectively. The shift is the most controversial issue among the trio. In 2017 the MLB average for plate appearances featuring a defensive positioning shift was 12.1%, with right-handed hitters playing into the shift 5.2% of the time and left-handed hitters 22.1%.
Fast forward to 2021, and we see a League average of 30.9% of plate appearance including the shift and an astounding 52.5% against left-handed hitters. The Astros shifted over 80% of the time against left-handed hitters last season, and the Dodgers led all of baseball with a defensive shift in 52.5% of all opposing plate appearance.
Shifting has certainly seen an increase in recent years, much to the dismay of players like Joey Gallo. However, it is unlikely MLB institutes a ban on the shift anytime soon. When a shift-ban was implemented in the minors it did not lead to any conclusive results and ultimately slowed down the pace of play as umpires needed to utilize replay to determine if an infielder was positioned illegally.
For those hitters struggling against the shift, the famous words of Hall of Famer Willie Keeler come to mind, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t”, because the shift is here to stay.
The Magic Baseball Says: Don’t Count On It
If you have questions you’d like answered by the magic baseball, leave them in the comment section below and you could see them answered by the oracle in a future edition of Ask the Magic Baseball.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)