MLB Opening Day: What to Watch as the Pitch Clock Era Starts

After months of speculation about how new rules will change the game and a spring training filled with fast games and plenty of flubs, opening day of the 2023 Major League Baseball season is finally here. And for the first time since 1968, every M.L.B. team is starting its season on the same day.

The story lines are plentiful, even beyond the new rules. And with more than 12 hours of live baseball expected, there should be something for everyone.

It sounds like hyperbole, but M.L.B.’s three major rule changes for this season — a pitch clock, a ban on shifts and some tweaks to encourage more stolen bases — are perhaps the most sweeping single-season changes in modern baseball history. (Switching to overhand pitching in the late 19th century was probably more extreme, but let’s put that aside.)

While a ban on defensive shifts will undoubtedly raise some batting averages — Anthony Rizzo of the Yankees has to be happy — and everyone seems to agree that an increase in stolen bases would be good, the big thing is definitely the pitch clock. In spring training, it reduced the average game time by 25 minutes and got mostly positive feedback, even if there were more than a few awkward moments when an automatic strike reared its ugly head. There was also a 20-second strikeout, so stay alert!

Anthony Volpe may have entered spring training as something of a long shot to make the Yankees, but he left it as the team’s starting shortstop, and he got a major endorsement when the club assigned him No. 11. For those unfamiliar with Yankees traditions, that is the lowest jersey number the team has not retired. So it’s safe to say the team thinks Volpe, 21, has a bright future.

As expected, he started for the Yankees on Thursday, playing shortstop and batting ninth. He walked in his first plate appearance and grounded out to third in his second trip to the plate.

What can you expect from him? In Keith Law’s annual Top 100 M.L.B. Prospects list for The Athletic, he ranked Volpe as the eighth-best prospect in baseball and described a player who sounds a whole lot like Derek Jeter — the shortstop Volpe grew up rooting for in New Jersey.

Volpe has a beautiful right-handed swing — I don’t know why anyone would try to mess with it — that produces a lot of quality contact and keeps the ball in the air for extra-base power, although I think he’ll settle in as more of a high-doubles guy who might hit 20 homers than a 30-homer guy. He’s a 55-60 runner but it plays up on the bases because he has great instincts both for reading pitchers and reading situations. While at shortstop, he’s got great hands and gets himself into the right position to make plays more than most shortstops I see. I caught a lot of Volpe last year, and he was playing a different game than his teammates.

The new rules are designed to speed up the game and increase the action. But those changes might be hard to spot on opening day since there are so many games featuring ace-level starters.

The Mets will have Max Scherzer going against Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins. So that’s three Cy Young Awards (Scherzer) going up against last year’s unanimous winner of the award in the N.L. (Alcantara). The Yankees have Gerrit Cole facing a major breakout candidate in Logan Webb of the San Francisco Giants. The reworked Texas Rangers have their new ace, Jacob deGrom, battling with Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies. And there are several more matchups along those lines.

So it might be wise to reserve your judgment of the new rules until these teams turn to their bullpens.

After a season in which he became the first player in M.L.B. history to qualify for both the batting title and the E.R.A. title — take that, Babe Ruth — Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels came to an agreement on a one-year, $30 million contract that avoided Ohtani, baseball’s only two-way star, going to arbitration. But with no long-term agreement in place, Ohtani is officially in a contract year, and the Angels have to be hoping their various roster changes will make the team more competitive. He has made it clear he will walk away to find a chance to win.

Last year, it was Aaron Judge who stepped up and delivered a season for the ages before his free-agent negotiations. He was rewarded with a nine-year, $360 million contract. If Ohtani plays the way he did in the last two seasons, he might make that Judge contract look tiny by comparison.

It will be chilly in Chicago when the Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers today, and it won’t be much more pleasant in the Bronx (Yankees-Giants) or Boston (Red Sox-Orioles), but the only place affected by rain, so far, is … San Diego?

The Padres were scheduled to start their opener against the Colorado Rockies at 1:10 p.m. Pacific, but a rainstorm — the latest in a series of them in the last few months — has pushed their start to 6:40 local time.

It is truly a new era in San Diego. The team is so popular that it put a cap on season ticket sales.

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