MLB Rule Changes: What Bettors Should Know For 2022

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on April 7, 2022
MLB rule changes

Major League Baseball is back, but it will look slightly different in 2022 than it did previously. This is no real surprise as rule and park changes frequently alter the landscape of MLB, sometimes in meaningful ways. That’s particularly true in the first season after a new CBA, as players and owners spent serious time haggling over the right to mold the future of baseball.

So, what did they come up with, and what other changes (or non-changes) should bettors stay aware of heading into 2022?

With the season about to start, let’s dive in to what bettors must know. Keep in mind this is likely not exhaustive. The goal is to collect meaningful changes from all of the preseason content I’ve digested at numerous MLB-focused outlets, and try to provide bettors with actionable betting takeaways.

MLB Rule Changes, Betting Angles For 2022

First, we’ll go over rule changes. In fact, first we’ll go over what’s not changing. You have likely seen or heard reference to the following rule changes, but these do not take effect until 2023 at the earliest:

  • Banning the shift
  • Pitch clock
  • Larger bases
  • Moving second base closer to first and third (link)

To give everyone more time to discuss and debate these changes, they’ve been tabled until 2023 with the provision that owners must allow for a 45-day window and approval from a competition committee.

Furthermore, the league has (unfortunately) brought back the ghost runner on second base for extra innings, after initial reports said the rule would go away. Keep in mind when live betting that this rule gives home teams an edge since it’s much easier to play for one run in this game state.

Now, on to what has changed.

Universal DH

The universal DH has finally arrived, ending decades of debate. No longer will NL teams trot out weak hitters for essentially free outs, curbing potential rallies and encouraging opposing teams to hand out free passes to actual hitters in order to bring pitchers to the plate.

Most crucially, keep in mind that this will likely see offense pump up a bit in the NL. You’ll need to shift your frame of reference on totals involving NL teams, because everyone’s lineups have gained strength. One recent study by FiveThirtyEight estimated the difference at about a quarter of a run per game.

A somewhat related rule, dubbed the “Shohei Ohtani Rule” will provide a similar benefit to teams whose pitchers double as the DH. This really only affects the Angels and allows Ohtani to stay in the game as a hitter when he’s pulled from pitching duty. Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs estimated the change will only add a run or two to the Angels’ entire season.

Expanded Playoffs

The new MLB playoff includes six teams from each league rather than five. Previously, the bottom two teams that qualified participated in a one-game Wild Card playoff. The winner then advanced to the traditional best-of-five Divisional round.

What this means is that down-ballot playoff teams now have much more of a fighting shot to win the World Series. Where they previously had to advance from essentially a one-game coin flip to even get in the main tournament, they now have some margin for error from the start.

For a great example, look at last year’s Dodgers. They were universally considered the strongest team but barely squeaked out a Wild Card win over the Cardinals, following the Giants shockingly taking the division. Under the old format, the Dodgers found themselves in very real danger of going one-and-done, but this year, they’d remain comfortable favorites in pre-playoff markets.

Dan Szymborski modeled some of the World Series and playoff odds changes at FanGraphs earlier this year. While the team strength numbers have changed due to injuries and signings and such, it’s worth a look to see how you should adjust your expectations in futures markets. Essentially, teams in tough divisions receive bumps because we can be more confident they will reach the tournament.

Remember Toronto last year?

Added Incentive To Call Up Elite Prospects

Teams have fudged the service time of elite prospects for years as a means of gaining an extra year of control. That practice should hopefully slow down after rule changes to incentivize teams to call up and use these players if they’re going to aid.

The new rules automatically award a full year of service time to the top two vote-getters in each league’s Rookie of the Year race. Furthermore, if a team’s prospect on the Opening Day roster finishes top three in ROY or top five in MVP or Cy Young voting, that team becomes eligible to receive additional draft picks.

A top-performing rookie can produce several wins worth of value over the course of the season. That could meaningfully move the needle on his team’s win total or chances to cash in futures markets like World Series.

Additionally, high-ceiling rookies can be more safely projected to play for their teams and give themselves a shot in ROY. Already, we’ve seen the Mariners (Julio Rodriguez) and Royals (Bobby Witt Jr.) name top rookies to their Opening Day rosters. In the past, we couldn’t be certain when or even whether talents like this would appear until expanded rosters in September.

Reduced Efficacy Of Tanking?

Among MLB rule changes this year includes one targeting the draft. The league has decided to implement an NBA-style draft lottery in order to reduce the effectiveness of tanking for high draft picks. All non-playoff teams enter a lottery for the top six picks. The teams with the three worst records have a flat 16.5% chance of drawing the top selection.

In theory, this disincentivizes teams from tanking. In actuality, this change may not do much. As we still see in the NBA, even flattened lottery odds haven’t stopped tanking completely. A number of franchises have still brazenly angled for late-season losses this year.

It’s probably still a good idea to mostly avoid betting the very worst teams facing the best and most motivated late in the season.

MLB Ballpark, Baseball Changes For 2022

Not all MLB rule changes involve actual rules. The changing baseball has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, and yet another major shift will occur for 2022. Furthermore, at least one ballpark has seen an actionable dimension change. Maybe these aren’t MLB rule changes, per se, but you should know what’s going on here.

Humidors In Every Ballpark

Last year, 10 MLB teams used humidors for storage of baseballs. This year, that number leaps all the way to the full 30.

For those unfamiliar, humidors allow a controlled environment for the storage of the league’s official baseballs. They first gained traction when the Rockies and Diamondbacks used them to deaden the baseballs a bit and bring offense at their respective parks closer to that of the MLB norm. The drier locales housing those teams caused the baseballs to fly farther, with the humidors serving to counteract that somewhat.

Before you go start firing unders and printing, though, you have to realize that humidors in very humid locales (think Atlanta, San Diego) will have the reverse effect. Baseballs in these parks may now have less carry as everything gets normalized in an attempt to bring consistency to the ball.

According to Eno Sarris at The Athletic, parks such as those of the Padres, Giants, Athletics, Guardians and Angels could actually see notable increase in offense.

New Dimensions In Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, long an offensive haven, may not be so anymore. The franchise has opted to move the fences back considerably in left field, while at the same time raising the wall.

The skinny is that the park may now play neutral. Previously, its three-year park factor (measure of offense relative to league norms) ranked in a tie for fifth according to FanGraphs.

Derek Carty, creator of THE BAT projection system, called the changes “the biggest we’ve seen to a park in years” and said he’s moved Camden’s park factor from fourth to 15th in his model.

This could have a significant impact on totals for Orioles games.

Certain pitchers will also benefit more than others. In particular, John Means comes to mind. A lefty fly baller with a decent-sized handedness split — he allowed 41 more wOBA points to right-handed bats in his career — Means could benefit big time here.

Keep this in mind when looking over early Orioles lines and totals, as well as Orioles players’ prices in markets like “most home runs” or awards.

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Mo Nuwwarah

Mo Nuwwarah got his start in gambling early, making his first sports bet on his beloved Fab Five against the UNC Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He lost $5 to his dad and got back into sports betting years later during a 15-year run in the poker industry. A 2011 journalism graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, he combines those skills with his love of sports and statistics to help bettors make more informed decisions with a focus on pro football, baseball and basketball.

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