Rule changes every sports better needs to know

The 2023 MLB season is going to take some getting used to for everybody.

Players, fans, managers and pundits have all weighed in on the myriad rule changes, but the truth is nobody knows how it will shake out until games start and chaos either does, or does not, ensue.

That goes for bettors and bookmakers, too.

This isn’t the first time in the modern era that the market will have to react to a major change to the rulebook in one of the four major sports.

Heck, baseball changed the extra-innings rule a couple of seasons ago and hasn’t looked back, but this time the adjustments are more wholesale and will impact the game from start to finish, rather than just after regulation.

The last time something like this happened in one of the four major sports in North America was in the NHL in 2005-06, and back then there was only one state in the country with legalized sports betting (Nevada) and mobile gambling was more than a decade away.

The stakes, therefore, were nowhere near as high as they will be for the first few weeks of this Major League Baseball season.

On the surface, it looks as if most folks are expecting the changes to lead to more runs.

No league tries to reduce scoring — and commissioner Rob Manfred seems particularly hellbent on making baseball games as close to home run derbies as possible — so the logical assumption is that bettors will flock to the over in the early going.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. speaks to the media during the MLB Rules Press Conference
MLB Photos via Getty Images

But bookmakers weren’t born yesterday and they will be ready for that money to come in.

“These new rules will require players to adapt and adjust to the game, and, likewise, the sportsbook will adjust as well.” Christian Cipollini, a sports trader at BetMGM, said. “Totals may see an early spike as the defense and pitching has less time to adjust, but we will be monitoring it closely.”

That makes you wonder if the bookies will set totals a bit higher than they would have in years past.

If the assumption is that money will pile in on the over once the market opens, then it would be sensible for bookmakers to throw up a high total to begin with and protect themselves.

That could create some value going the other way.

“The new rules all stand to benefit offense over defense,” Action Network MLB expert Sean Zerillo noted. “Yet there was no material increase in run scoring in a substantial sample of minor league games using the same rule-set.

“Stolen base attempts and success rates will increase [by as much as 40 percent and 5 percent, respectively], balls hit through the middle will become hits again, and MLB will shave 20 minutes off the average game time,” Zerillo continued.

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“Still, there is nothing to suggest that the run-scoring environment should increase significantly, even if the intuitive assumption says otherwise. Last season, the average total in April was 8.33 — before dropping to 8.08 in May. Hopefully, the totals will rise in reaction to the new rules, and we will find another good early run backing the Unders.”

In most cases, bookmakers won’t really react to small sample sizes (it took them a while to catch up with the decrease in scoring when MLB changed the baseballs last season and put humidors in every ballpark), but this could be a unique case in which they’ll have to fly by the seat of their pants more than they’re used to doing.

“The trading team does not overreact to short-term trends. But given recent rules changes they will be more willing to adjust as needed,” Cipollini explained.