Thoughts on Proposed MLB Rule Changes

A MiLB pitcher on the mound with a pitch clock behind him.

We all love change, right?

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are in discussion regarding multiple rule change proposals. Eight of the topics were brought to light by Passan, and I’m here to share my thoughts on each.

Years ago, I used to be in the crowd that enjoyed baseball just like it was, and felt that no changes are necessary. I still enjoy the game, but I’m always open to changing the game for the better.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into them.

 

Three-Batter Minimum for Pitchers

I feel like this became a discussion because of how former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi managed a bullpen. It always felt like he had a million pitchers in the bullpen and he’d use half a million in a game, batter by batter. I love a good strategy, but it certainly got tiring.

Installing a new rule to force pitchers to face at least three batters would essentially create four new things to think about:

  1. LOOGYs (Left-handed One Out Guy) would be a thing of the past. You’re going to have to be decent at getting both lefties and righties out if you want a roster spot.
  2. Managers would have to become more strategic on who they trust to face the upcoming three batters, as opposed to who they trust to win a battle against just one batter. They would also have to be more strategic on how they order their batting lineup each night.
  3. Teams may be more aggressive on above-average relievers in the free-agent market and trades, as opposed to being content with cheap arms who have a specific job (like a LOOGY).
  4. If you’re a fan who wants to speed up the game, this would certainly do so.

After some hard consideration, count me in. I think this could bring a new competitive nature and more-strategic managing to the game.

In today’s game, pitcher-batter matchups are a bit easier when you have a left-handed reliever who can’t get righties out. The manager simply puts them in against the one big lefty in the lineup.

A three-batter minimum creates more tough decisions, which could effectively bring out the best or worst in a manager.

 

Universal Designated Hitter

Some people love that pitchers get to hit in the National League. But I’m not one of those people.

The last thing I want is to sign a pitcher to a hefty contract, then he ends up getting hurt doing something that I’m not paying him to do. The chanc of injury for a pitcher while hitting isn’t large, but it’s enough for me to not want him to step in the box or run the bases.

I also don’t see the point in two leagues having separate rules. That would be like the NFL allowing AFC teams a fifth down, or forcing East Coast teams in the NBA to only have four players on the court. Sure, different sports, different rules. But I just believe both the American League and National League should play on equal ground.

According to Passan, the rule may be eased in, with interleague games having the designated hitter for both teams in 2019 regardless of location, with the National League fully adopting the DH in 2020. This would be the fair way to implement it, giving National League teams a full season to start to construct their rosters differently.

If a team wants to use their pitcher to hit, that should be their decision, not the league’s.

 

Single Trade Deadline Before the All-Star Break

For many years, it has seemed like July 31 is a holiday in baseball, with many teams receiving new gifts.

Everyone refreshes their social media feeds every 30 seconds leading up to the deadline to see if their favorite team is going to acquire a new player. Then, once the deadline passes, it’s all done, right?

Nope. Teams still have a whole month after that to make a trade for their postseason push as long as the players clear trade waivers. There have been many August trades that were exciting and were huge for playoff pushes, but I still never understood why the rule was in place.

If there’s a deadline, make it a deadline and that be that.

Therefore, I am all on board with a rule that makes it one trade deadline. I’ll have to be further convinced into the deadline being moved up to the All-Star break, however. How would that work out for players playing in the All-Star Game? There would definitely be some kinks to work out on that.

Until then, sign me up for the one and only trade deadline.

 

20-Second Pitch Clock

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of a pitch clock. But it does seem like it’s going to be a thing whether we like it or not. In the end, what’s a pitch clock going to save on game time: three or four minutes, if that?

I don’t think I’m ever going to like the pitch clock, but it’s just something I’ll have to get used to over time – like many rule changes that have happened in professional sports over the years.

Passan did note that, involved in the discussions is the possibility of the pitch clock being turned off with runners on base. So, I guess that’s something to kind of meet the middle.

For this potential rule change, I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and pick my battles. I won’t pick this one.

 

Expand Rosters to 26, With a 12-Pitcher Maximum

For the past few years, I’ve preached a roster expansion to 26 players, so I’m definitely on board with this. However, I don’t like the idea of a 12-pitcher maximum.

Also, how would MLB enforce a 12-pitcher maximum? Two teams, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, are utilizing Kaleb Cowart and Matt Davidson, respectively, as two-way players this season – playing both infield and pitching. Also, when Shohei Ohtani fully returns from Tommy John surgery, he’ll be both pitching and hitting.

Count me in for an expansion to 26 players on a roster, but don’t set a limit on the number of pitchers. There have been times the Baltimore Orioles needed to have 13 pitchers on just a 25-man roster. Expanding to 26 while limiting to 12 arms could hurt teams more than help them.

Also, the proposal on the table includes limiting September rosters to 28 in September instead of the massive 40. I agree that it shouldn’t be as large as 40, but I do like the expansion in September and being able to get a look at prospects, so I’d look for maybe 30-man roster. But I won’t nitpick here. If 28-man roster in September is part of the deal, I can live with it.

 

Draft Advantages for Winning Teams and Penalties for Losing Teams

This is certainly an interesting one.

The O’s had the worst record in baseball last season, and will be rewarded with a first-overall draft pick. It’s certainly possible that it could happen again this year as well. If a new rule is implemented, though, it could change the game drastically.

“…MLBPA is interested in changes that would use draft picks to incentivize winning and grant players the ability to earn additional service, which could allow them to hit free agency earlier and theoretically counteract what the union believes is the manipulation of service time by teams.

Low-revenue teams that succeed — whether by finishing above .500 or making the playoffs — would be given greater draft positions or bonus pools under the union’s proposal, according to sources. While the depth of the penalties were not clear, the union suggested teams that lose 90-plus games in consecutive years could be affected negatively in the draft.”

So, basically, the idea is to get teams to stop tanking for the draft and to reward teams that exceed expectations. Man, the O’s of 2012-through-2016 would’ve made out pretty nicely with this.

In times that the Orioles are arguably the worst team in baseball, I don’t like this. Being a selfish O’s fan, I hope a rule like this goes into place once the O’s are back to competing again.

 

Study to Lower the Mound

MLB is interested in studying the height of the mound and its effect, with the possibility that all major-league mounds could be lowered in 2020.

I’m intrigued to look at their findings in this study.

MLB lowered the mound after 1968 because pitchers were just too dominant in the game.

In 1968, the strikeout rate in baseball was 15.8 percent. This past year? 22.3 percent.

If the goal is to get offense back into the game, this may be something worth looking into. But we’ll have to wait and see what kind of information MLB comes up with in analyzing mound height.

 

Allow Two-Sport Amateurs to Sign Major-League Contracts

This should be a fun one to discuss. Oakland Athletics first-round pick Kyler Murray may be leaving baseball in the past after he declared for the NFL Draft following a Heisman Trophy-winning year at Oklahoma.

Baseball has the guaranteed contracts, higher salaries, and fewer injuries, so why wouldn’t Murray choose baseball over football?

The risk of “making it.” As a potential first-round pick in the NFL, Murray would likely have an immediate impact playing the NFL. In baseball, the payoff is huge if you make it, but you’d have to pass through multiple minor-league levels just to get your shot in the big leagues.

With the Murray news, the MLBPA has suggested bringing back the major-league contract.

“In the wake of Oakland Athletics first-round pick Kyler Murray potentially leaving behind baseball to pursue an NFL career after a Heisman Trophy-winning season, the union also suggested the idea of bringing back the major league contract as an enticement for two-sport athletes to stick with baseball, sources said. Currently, all draft contracts are minor league deals subject to a draft pool that penalizes teams that exceed it.”

Back in December, Murray said, via the New York Post, that he’d love to be a two-sport athlete professionally. I think fans would love to see that as well. So, it’ll be interesting to see if a rule will be brought back to help make that dream of Murray’s happen.

Overall, I’m in favor of a good number of these rule changes that are being discussed. I wonder how many could be implemented this year, next year, or maybe never at all.

Which of these do you like or downright hate? What changes would you make to the league that aren’t listed here?

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