Major League Baseball instituted four new rules for the 2023 baseball season: a pitch timer, pickoff limitations, bigger bases, and shift restrictions. During the offseason, wise teams targeted players who were fast, were strikeout pitchers, and who had great range defensively in order to combat or lean into these rule changes.
The Cardinals already had speedy players and defensive whizzes on their roster. The thought among management was that they could take advantage of base-stealing opportunities and that they wouldn't be hampered defensively. However, the defensive limitations would require pitchers to pitch to contact less. That was a problem for the Cardinals. Let's take a look at how the Cardinals did (or didn't) take advantage of the four new rules this year.
Many teams targeted strikeout pitchers this offseason. The Cardinals instead chose to stand pat with their pitch-to-contact rotation. It worked in the past; why wouldn't it work in 2023?The Cardinals appear to have been hurt by the shift restrictions. While they didn't shift at above-average rates in the past, they did position their players well in past seasons.
Rather than playing players who could cover a lot of ground defensively, the Cardinals opted for a more offensive approach this year. Offensive-minded players such as Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, and Willson Contreras gathered the bulk of innings at their respective positions. While Brendan Donovan, Andrew Knizner, and Dylan Carlson would all be preferable defensively to these players, Contreras, Walker, and Gorman provide significantly greater offensive upside.
For a team known for its defensive prowess, the Cardinals did not do the best of jobs preparing for the shift restrictions. Rather than playing athletic players such as Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson in key defensive positions, the team instead opted for offense. In a year where defense would be premium, the Cardinals did not read into that well enough.