I wrote yesterday about the new three-batter minimum and possible implications for MLB pitchers this season. MLB isn’t stopping there, though, as they’ve done even more tweaking. Here’s what you need to know about 2020 and the rule changes unveiled by MLB.
Pace of Play
To understand the new rules and why they were imposed, you must first realize Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mindset. Manfred is obsessed with speeding up the game, theorizing that a less attentive America will suddenly be able to focus for the duration of nine innings.
Manfred started imposing rules during the 2018 season and will continue to do so for the next couple of years. Baseball has changed and not for the better.
Beginning in 2018, Manfred limited mound visits to just six per game, as opposed to unlimited visits in years past. Previously, the only restriction on the number of mound visits each team could make was the one requiring a pitcher to be removed if he was visited twice in one inning.
Catchers would often waste time intentionally with a mound visit, allowing a relief pitcher more time to warm up. Although certainly not the only guilty one, the Cubs’ Willson Contreras got blamed by many for the change, due to his excessive visits.
In 2019, Manfred cut the number of visits to just five, with the intention of eliminating them altogether in the future. This seems to be a strange agenda, especially considering the recent Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Catchers need to be able to communicate face to face with their pitchers. At times, they’ll need to calm him down, discuss strategy, change hand signals or buy time. The game is going to be fundamentally different and strategy will suffer.
Roster Rule Changes
As opposed to previous years, MLB will now change the roster to 26 men, as opposed to 25 in the past. This change was made, at least in part, due to the three-batter minimum rule. Pitchers (such as the righty or lefty specialist) that used to pitch almost daily will now be limited, as they must face more batters per appearance.
In September, teams used to be allowed to expand their rosters to 40 men. The rule was instituted so that teams had extra bodies as they attempted to secure playoff spots. The 2020 rules state that expanded rosters will now only consist of 28 men, a decrease of 30%.
Managers will now have to choose much more carefully, as no player may be added after September 1st. Tired bullpens will be further taxed, as they’ll have just two extra players on the roster.
As opposed to 2018 and earlier, no team may carry more than 13 pitchers. Generally, the starting rotation consists of five men, leaving room for just eight relievers. When the September call-ups occur, bullpens would usually see an influx of additional pitchers, but that’s now a thing of the past.
Managers must also now designate whether a player is a pitcher or position player. As written, the rule states that only players designated as pitchers will be allowed to pitch in any regular-season or postseason game.
Angels’ manager Joe Maddon was known for taking pitchers off the mound, then inserting them into the outfield for one batter. He would bring in a reliever to face one man, then reinsert the previous pitcher back on the mound. This was allowed, as the first pitcher never exited the game.
A rule has also been instituted for guys who can proficiently pitch, field and bat, such as Shohei Ohtani of the Angels and Michael Lorenzen of the Reds. In this case, players are designated as two-way players.
The rule states that once a player has pitched at least 20 innings and made at least three plate appearances as a position player or designated hitter in each of 20 games, he earns the status of “two-way player” for the remainder of the season. Once that designation is earned, it carries over to the next season. Players with this status may pitch at any time during a game.
Position Players Pitching
During blowout games, managers will often insert position players into the pitcher’s position. Opposing teams generally take it easy, trying not to further embarrass the guy stuck on the mound. This rule will remain in effect, but only if one team is leading by seven or more runs, or if the game is going into extra innings.
Despite Manfred’s best efforts and intentions to speed things up, these rules carry consequences. Pitchers are going to be injured from overuse and the manager’s strategy is going to be affected. Catchers will eventually have to figure out to communicate with only hand signals and pitchers will be lost in the lurch while trying to regain composure.
The three-batter minimum isn’t even going to speed things up. Many pitchers are brought in to get just one out. When a specialist is forced to pitch to either a right or left-handed hitter (depending on his specialty), more hits will occur, further slowing play.
The rules changes have affected the integrity of the game and will continue to do so. Baseball is quickly becoming a shell of what it once was and it looks like Manfred will continue to make changes.
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