By Michael Levitt
This off season, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have decided to implement some changes to the current rules of baseball. They are small individually, but could change the game in a big way.
The change that could impact the game the most is the requirement that pitchers must face at least three batters or pitch to the end of an inning, barring injury. There had previously been no limit on how many batters a pitcher had to face, so managers would sometimes employ pitchers, almost always relievers, to face one or two batters and then switch pitchers again. Over the past couple years, the opener has developed as well, and has turned into a strategy that many managers use to throw the opposing hitters off-balance and move the odds closer to their team. It will be interesting to see how many managers will call upon openers this season with the new rule in place, since openers sometimes would only face the first one or two batters of the game.
One of the other rule changes is to increase typical roster size from 25 to 26 active players and decrease the number of players a team can use in September. The way it had been, from the start of the season to August 31 plus the playoffs, a team would have 25 active players, and from September 1 to the end of the regular season, the team was allowed to recall up to 15 extra players beyond the 25-man limit. Now, the normal roster size will be 26 active players and teams will only be allowed to call up an extra two players for the month of September. To go along with this, the league implemented a rule that of the normal 26 players on a roster, a maximum of 13 can be pitchers, with a maximum of 14 pitchers allowed in September. However, these do not count two-way players. Two-way players are defined as players who both pitched in 20 games the previous season and started in the field or at designated hitter for 20 games the previous season. For the first season with this rule though, the league is allowing players who accomplished the requirements in 2018 to count as two-way players as well, incorporating the likes of Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in with players like Michael Lorenzen of the Cincinnati Reds.
In addition to the three-batter-minimum rule, another new rule limits what managers can do as well. Position players may now only pitch if the game is in extra innings or if one team is winning by at least six runs. This also does not count two-way players, who count as a hitter on the roster but can be used in the same way as a pitcher too. Hitters would usually only pitch in blowout games anyway, so while this does not change that, it makes it harder for a player to get two-way player status.
Another big rule change is that managers now only have 20 seconds to challenge a play, whereas they used to have 30 seconds. This will put more pressure on team’s video analysis personnel, since most managers like to know before challenging if they have a good chance of winning the challenge.
The final rule change reverts back to some older rules that were changed a few years ago. Up until 2016, any players who were placed on the disabled list had to miss at least 15 days, but before the 2017 season, the minimum amount of time for a player to miss became 10 days. It will continue to be 10 days for hitters if they are placed on the disabled list, but it is changing to 15 days for pitchers and two-way players. Teams had started to put players, specifically pitchers, on the injured list for minor injuries and circumvent the system a bit, so this makes it harder for teams to do that.
While there had been talk of a new and expanded playoff system, that will not be taking place this year, and it needs to be approved by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association as well as by the league. There may be some talk of that this year between the two groups, but nothing will likely get announced until after this season is over.
The main question now is how long it takes players, coaches, umpires, and fans to get used to these new rules and if it will impact how teams’ front offices assess rosters. It will be interesting to watch in the beginning of the season and even in spring training as there will probably be a bit of an adjustment period for everyone involved. The main backbone of the baseball rules is still in place; it is just a few changes to the outer layer of the rulebook. However, these changes could impact and possibly decide games. Only time will tell how much of an impact they have.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org