New Baseball rule changes for the 2020 season

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2020

Image result for MLB Baseball rule changesBY DIC HUMPHREY                                                                                                                                                 DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL

     So you think you know baseball?  Well, we all may be wondering when the season opens in March.  There are new rules this year that will give it a different look.  One of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s objectives since taking office was speeding up the pace of play, and much of the thrust of the new rules is toward that end.  

     For starters, the roster size has been enlarged from 25 to 26 players.  Pitching staffs were usually around 10 back in the 1960’s before the designated hitter came into being, leaving seven position players available on the bench for a game.  In recent years, the norm has become 12 or 13 pitchers.  With eight position players starting in the National League and nine in the American League with the designated hitter, that leaves just three or four players on the bench.  The enlarged rosters come with a caveat that teams can have a maximum of 13 players designated as pitchers.  There are exceptions for players that are true two-way players such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.  There are rules about how many innings and at-bats a player must have to be designated as a two-way player.

    Ohtani actually does not qualify as a two-way player.  He was recovering from Tommy John surgery last season and played as a DH only.  His 2018 stats have been utilized to allow him to be named a two-way player, so the Angels could have 14 true pitchers on their roster.  Ohtani is not expected to be able to pitch regularly until mid-May.  He will be allowed to make minor league rebab appearances without being placed on the Injured List.  

     Cincinnati’s Michael Lorenzen is the only other player that could be considered a two-way player.  He’s a reliever that threw enough innings to qualify as a pitcher.  He played in 29 games as an outfielder in 2019, but didn’t start enough to qualify as a hitter.  He will be designated as one of the Reds’ 13 pitchers and can play in the outfield as usual.  There is no restriction on pitchers playing in the field.  The rules just apply to position players pitching.  

     However, the rules do allow for position players to pitch in games under certain conditions.  There were 90 such appearances last season, up from just eight in 2011.  Most of those appearances were in blowout games to save a team’s bullpen.  Under the new rules, position players can pitch in extra innings and in the first nine innings of games if there is a seven run or more differential in the score.  

    The roster rules also continue to allow an additional player for doubleheaders.   The bench is shortened though for September.  In the past, teams could add player to their active roster up to their full 40-man roster.  It made for September play to be by different rules than the first five months of the season.  That didn’t seem right for teams battling to make the playoffs.  Consequently, teams can now expand their rosters to just 28 players in September.  It is mandatory that teams carry the full 28, and the number of pitchers allowed goes to 14.

    Undoubtedly, part of the thinking for expanding the rosters is to appease the players’ union.  Tension between the union and management has grown in recent years.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season, and there is the real threat of a work stoppage which hasn’t happened since the end of the 1994 season, a stoppage that delayed the start of the 1995 season which was shortened to 144 games.  Adding 30 new Major League jobs is a nice gesture to get negotiations rolling.  

     The Injured List period was recently shortened from 15 days down to 10 days before the 2017 season.  Teams particularly took advantage to put starting pitchers on the Injured List that might get skipped over the course of 10 days if an off day was involved.  Consequently, the Injured List minimum stay for pitchers goes back to 15 and stays at 10 days for position players.  A corollary to this rule is the required stay in the minor leagues for players with options.  In the past, a 10-day minimum stay in the minors was required before they could return to the Major League team.  Now a 15-day stay is required for pitchers, while position players can be recalled after 10 days.  The seven day concussion list remains unchanged at a seven day minimum stay.

    Relief pitchers now must face at least three batters before they can be replaced.  This is a pace of play solution.  The last three innings of games often take an hour or more to play with numerous pitching changes during innings.  There are exceptions of course for injuries.  This rule does not carry over from inning to inning.  I.E., if a reliever faces just one or two batters to end an inning, he can be replaced at the start of the next inning.  

    Undoubtedly, the use of instant replay has lengthened games.  Replay is here to stay, whether we like it or not.  Last season, when there was a close play, managers could signal the umpires that they were contemplating using a challenge.  At that point, managers had 30 seconds to indicate yea or nay on wanting a review of the play.  This year, the decision period has been shortened to 20 seconds.

    It will be interesting to see how these new rules, especially the rules around the use of relief pitchers affects the game strategy.  Hopefully, the game times will shorten.  Most of all, hopefully we fans will be able to keep up with the rule changes and understand what we’re seeing on the field.



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