Baseball has been looking to pick up the pace of baseball games in an attempt to stave off an attendance decline and sagging post-season television ratings. Some of the proposed ideas have been good and some not so good, but they have finally settled on some rule changes for this year and next that they hope will create a more pleasing sport. There will be no pitch clock for now, and the DH rules will remain the same. But you could see some differences as soon as this year. What are the new rules and how do they affect you?
Coming in 2019:
One July 31 trade deadline
The “trade deadline” has always been July 31, but confusing waiver deals could still be made up until August 31. That will be a thing of the past this year, as no trades will be allowed after July 31. Players can still be waived after that date, but teams will have to decide earlier whether or not they are in contention earlier to make a trade.
Some GMs have objected to the deadline, arguing it should at least be moved back to mid-August.
Playing the final two months without the ability to fill holes through trades is too risky for contending clubs, the GM said. Teams that suffer a rash of injuries at one position – say, catcher – might be forced to promote a minor leaguer who does not belong in a pennant race.
This is kind of an interesting stance to take while GMs are forgoing free agents in favor of promoting minor leaguers, but it could definitely make August injuries a devastating blow to a team. Maybe this will place more of an emphasis on building depth, or perhaps we could see teams try to work-around the deadline by agreeing to claim players on bigger contracts and re-compensating the team losing the player in the off-season through a handshake agreement.
As for the Royals, this could have implications if they wish to trade some of their stopgap players like Martin Maldonado, Jake Diekman, or Brad Boxberger. By forcing the market to move by July 31, that could create more bidders as there are more teams in contention in July than in August. On the other hand, if there is no deal, that leaves the Royals no recourse to get a deal done in August.
All-Star Election Day
Interest in the All-Star Game has waned for decades, so baseball is looking to spice things up by having an “Election Day”. Fans will continue to vote online in the “Primary Round” similar to how they’ve always done, but the top three vote-getters at each positions will advance to Election Day. During a 24-hour period in late June or early July, fans will decide from these three candidates who will start the All-Star Game.
This will give baseball a chance to market its stars and generate some buzz for a one-day event. Knowing how Royals fans votes, this could provide an interesting way to stuff the ballot perhaps for a Whit Merrifield or Adalberto Mondesi.
Home Run Derby prize
Home Run Derby ratings hit a 20-year low last year, despite superstar Bryce Harper winning a thrilling contest. Other than Harper though, many of the game’s bigger stars opt to skip the derby, leaving it to guys like Jesus Aguilar and Max Muncy. Perhaps to attract better talent, MLB has increased the prize for the derby to $1 million, with $2.5 million in prizes total.
Mound visits reduced, commercial breaks shortened
Baseball is concerned about all the dead time in baseball, so this year they will reduce the number of mound visits allowed from six to five. Last year was the first year baseball had capped the number of visits to six, counting any visit from a manager, coach, or other player. You will also see shorter commercial breaks, with the time between innings shortened from 2 minutes 25 seconds in nationals broadcasts to 2 minutes in national games. Local games will see a five second reduction from 2 minutes 5 second to a flat 2 minutes. The Commissioner reserves the right to reduce breaks by an additional five seconds in 2020. So you may not get to see quite as many commercials of Ryan Lefebvre awkwardly proclaiming “Pizza Ranch for the win!”
Coming in 2020:
Pitchers face a three-batter minimum
The biggest change to strategy will be a new rule in 2020 that requires each pitcher to face a minimum of three hitters in an inning, barring injury. This is done to reduce the number of mid-inning pitching changes that lead to more dead time. This could put the careers of LOOGYs (left-handed-one-out-guys) in serious jeopardy, which is why the union objected to this rule change, saying it was implemented unilaterally.
Here are the pitchers who had the most appearances last year facing just one or two hitters.
Most appearances facing 2 or fewer hitters in 2018
You could still see pitchers face one hitter to end an inning, and perhaps we may start to see lefty relievers get mysteriously injured when a right-handed hitter comes up. But this could have a big impact on strategy and roster management.
Every LOOGY after they face their one batter, beginning in 2020: pic.twitter.com/W3Mr05ae72— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) March 14, 2019
Roster size changes and position players pitching
Teams have been loading up on their pitching staffs, carrying 12, 13, sometimes even as many as 14 pitchers. This has left their benches very thin, so baseball will allow teams to expand rosters to 26 for the 2020 season. MLB will cap the number of pitchers a team can carry (to be determined later), requiring teams to designate players as either a “pitcher” or “position player”. No position players can pitch in game unless they are (a) designated as a “two-way player” with at least 20 MLB innings pitched and 20 games started as a position player or DH; (b) the game is in extra innings; or (c) the team is winning or losing by six runs or more.
The number of position players on the mound has risen significantly in the last few years as a way to save the arms of pitchers. Some teams have been toying with the idea of using position players like J.D. Davis, Matt Davidson, and Kaleb Cowart on the mound on a more regular basis. Baseball seems to be putting limits to the practice, while not ending it entirely.
Rosters in September will be reduced from 40 to 28. Many have seen the bloated roster expansion in September as creating a parade of pitchers that slows the game down and an unfair situation for pennant races. This could mean fewer of your favorite prospects coming up to Kansas City for a cup of coffee.
Injured List, Minor League assignment to 15 days
The Injured List (formerly known as the Disabled List) will go back to 15 days from 10 days in 2020. It has previously been 15 days in the past, but shortened with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. The amount of time a player has to spend in the minors before being recalled will also be lengthened to 15 days (exceptions made if the player is replacing an injured player). This is in response to teams like the Dodgers using the short 10-day period as a way of shuttling guys in and out and essentially expanding their roster.
MLB and the union will also form a joint committee to study the rule changes and any other proposed changes.
What do you think of the changes? Will this be an improvement to the game? How will this affect the Royals?