Baseball season starts Thursday for the Royals. In mid-March, Major League Baseball and the player’s association agreed to some rule changes, some of which will go into effect in 2019 with the rest starting in 2020. Most of the changes were well-received as improvements to the game. One of the rule changes, set to go into effect in 2020, is causing people to lose their minds. We’ll get to that.
So what changes are going into effect in 2019?
Inning breaks shortened
Inning breaks are being reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. These breaks could be reduced to 1:55 in 2020 at the commissioner’s choice.
Fans are more than happy to have breaks reduced. There is no downside for fans with this one. This change alone won’t make a huge difference in game times but it will reduce downtime between innings which will make for a better fan experience.
One trade deadline
Currently there are two trade deadlines: July 31 and August 30. Two deadlines seems to not make any sense until you understand the differences. Up to July 31 trades can happen as soon as two teams agree on the deal and it is approved by the commissioner’s office. During August, players must clear waivers prior to be traded.
The new rule eliminates the August 30 deadline. So, players cannot be traded after July 31. Teams can still put players on waivers and other teams can claim those players but no trades may occur.
This rule change should increase the trade activity in July. Teams should now have all of the major pieces in place for two months prior to the start of the playoffs. This makes for an exciting few weeks after the All-Star break for teams to make trades. After July 31, we settle in and see who has the best team the rest of the way.
All-Star Game Voting
Voting for All-Stars will now consist of two rounds. The first round is the traditional voting we are used to doing. The second round will be on a single “Election Day” in which the top three vote-getters at each position in each league will be voted on to determine the starters. More fan involvement can only help the game.
Home Run Derby
The winner of the home run derby will receive $1 million. The total player pool is being increased to $2.5 million. This could attract more of the players fans want to see in the event. I wouldn’t be surprised to see players donate their winnings to charity which would be fantastic.
The maximum number of mound visits is being reduced from six to five. It should be an easy search but I could not find mound visit stats from 2018. I don’t recall seeing a game where the mound visits came into play. So this is probably not going to effect many, if any, games in 2019. This could be a step to an even lower limit in the future.
2019 Outlook: The changes in effect for 2019 look like either winners or changes that will not have any meaningful impact on the game.
The changes for 2020 are bigger changes. That’s probably why they have been delayed until then.
The roster size from opening day through August 31 will increase from 25 to 26. From September 1 through the end of the regular season, all teams will be required to carry 28 players. Up until 2020 teams could use their entire 40-man roster in September. This has been used by teams out of the playoff race as a way to give younger players some experience in the majors and for clubs to evaluate them. Playoff-caliber teams could have players in specialty roles. This is how Terrance Gore was used by the royals.
From 2014-2017 Gore was used as a pinch runner for the Royals and then the Cubs in 2018. In 2014 he had two plate appearances in 11 games. He had five stolen bases and five runs scored. So, he had three more runs scored and stolen bases than he had plate appearances!
Major League baseball wants to stop these specialty roles. They tend to just slow down the game with all of the switching. Some will say it removes strategy but really it just changes strategy. Teams can still pinch run. They just won’t have essentially unlimited resources to do it.
This is a great improvement to the game.
The injured list will be increased from a minimum of ten days to a minimum of 15 days. Pitchers sent to the minors will be required to stay there for a minimum of 15 days instead of the current ten.
Teams were using the shorter time periods to rotate players between the majors and minors to have more relief pitchers available. This rule should help prevent this from happening, although certainly it won’t eliminate the practice.
Pitchers’ Three Batter Minimum
Now this is where people lose their minds. The new rule is that pitchers must pitch to a minimum of three batters or to the end of a half-inning.
I would consider myself a baseball traditionalist. I still do not like the wild card. I would prefer going back to two divisions in each league and have the division winners play a series for the right to go to the World Series. In fact, I would be fine if the only post-season baseball was the World Series. Battling all the way to the end of the regular season with no bail out of wild cards or division winners would be fine with me. Win your league and go to the World Series or go home. But that’s not going to happen.
Times change and rules change. We have a lot more playoff teams in Major League Baseball than when I was a kid. I have learned to accept it even if I don’t like it.
The outrage caused by this rule change has been way over the top. When people hear that a pitcher in 2020 will have to pitch to a minimum of three batters they act like Major League Baseball is killing the game. Did anyone ever stop to think that right now there is a one batter minimum? This rule just increases that by two batters!
The designated hitter rule is hated by most National League fans. They say that it removes strategy from the game. Growing up in a National League city I agreed with this point of view. That changed when I started reading Bill James and realized that the decision to pinch hit for the pitcher was obvious in most situations. In other words, there really was no strategy but rather a decision that everyone agreed on 99% of the time. That’s not strategy. The designated hitter has made the game much better as now we get to keep great hitters in the game for more years. That’s a good thing.
So, how does the designated hitter relate to this rule change? Well if strategy is your argument then bringing in the left-handed specialist to get out the tough lefty bat is a no-brainer and really isn’t strategy either. But if that lefty had to face not just the tough lefty bat but also the next one or two batters then we have a decision to make.
Also, does anyone enjoy Terry Francona going to the mound to replace pitchers after every batter late in the game? I love baseball but even I will turn off a playoff game and go to bed because of all of the downtime.
I could see an additional rule that might need to change because of this change. I could see players faking injuries to get out of the game after one or two batters. If that becomes obvious then a new rule might need to be added to prevent this. Let’s try it out and see how we like it.
2020 Outlook: These rule changes appear to be terrific to me. They at least deserve a chance to see how they will affect the game. If they turn out to be bad decisions, Major League Baseball can always go back to the old rules. There is no downside in the long run to trying out these rules.
Major League Baseball is right to be concerned about the pace of play. The game is so slow and boring at times because we are just waiting for pitchers to warm up that is has sometimes become unwatchable. Strategy never goes away due to any of these rule changes. The strategy might change. The decisions might be different but they don’t go away. In some cases, like the three batter minimum for pitchers, I would argue that the strategy is even more interesting than it is now. If the manager has to think about potentially three batters a pitcher must face prior to bringing in a new pitcher, it might reduce his desire to do so thereby preventing a stop in the action. If the manager decides it’s worth making a change, he at least cannot do this for every batter.
Let’s give these rules a chance and see how things play out. Of course, this could also be a bargaining chip for the next CBA. We might never see the three batter minimum rule. Let’s just not lose our minds. Other sports change their rules. Baseball needs to adapt as well.