The verdict is in. Manfred must go! Manfred is destroying the game! Manfred this and Manfred that but is he really destroying the game we love and enjoy? Allow me to play devils advocate and try and answer that question.
This off-season has seen more drama than any other off-season in my living memory. We’ve had two cheating scandals that rocked the foundation of trust in the League. We’ve had rule changes go through and proposals made that have spilt fans down the middle and have some calling Manfred a “Devastating Force” out to destroy baseball as we know it. This is the first of what’s going to be a three part series on Rob Manfred and his recent offseason decisions and the ramifications they will carry into the future.
What I’m going to do is rationally break down the proposed rule changes to the game, The Astros and Red Sox cheating scandal decisions, and his war with Minor League Baseball.
Let’s start with the rules. The current CBA that was agreed upon in 2016 and runs until 2022 changed the game of baseball. It changed everything from the All-Star game to FA. A lot of those changes were scoffed at by fans and others were seen as positives. Fans and players didn’t like when they took away the All-Star games power of deciding home-field advantage in the World Series, it was what separated MLB from other leagues. The MLB’s All-Star game meant something but since that time the All-Star game hasn’t eroded in quality of play or excitement and making home field advantage available to the best record in baseball makes sure teams don’t coast at the end. It makes late season games more worthwhile therefore it was a positive in retrospect.
On the other hand..
Players and fans initially liked the idea of taking the IL from 15 to 10 days. This however ended up being a problem for MLB as pitchers were hit the hardest from this change. This is because it opens up possibilities for roster creativity – or, if you prefer, manipulation or even exploitation. Now a club could look ahead at the schedule, see an off-day and “injure” the fifth starter, skipping his spot in the rotation and using that roster space to call up an extra reliever from Triple-A. By the time the fifth starter is needed again, the 10 days would be up, and the extra reliever could be sent back down. Thankfully the MLB did something about this and I’ll expand on that later.
Sometimes the rule-changes we dread the most are the ones we end up relishing and appreciating whereas rule changes we think are-to quote Jorge Masvidal-“super necessary” in fact make things more difficult and convoluted for those involved.
This seasons rule changes are as follows:
- “The Three Batter Minimum”
Out of all the new rules this is the one with the most attention. This rule effectively removes the “specialist” from the bullpen. No more “Left-handed one out guy”. I’m not opposed to it especially In the context of wanting to speed up the game. I’m also not enamored with the notion of a roster spot being taken up by a lesser pitcher. The guys who can only pitch to one side of the plate are either going to have to adapt and overcome or move on. I can also think of the added drama it adds to games, especially tight ones and that’s something the games been missing ever since the bullpen revolution started.
- “Roster Limits”-Which has Five parts to it
- “26 Man Rosters”
Rosters go from 25 to 26 in the regular-through aug. 31st-and postseason, it also limits teams to just 13 pitchers max in the regular and postseason. This is probably going to be one of those benign rule changes that has a minimal affect on the game.
2. “Smaller Rosters in September”
Before this rule teams could call up anyone from the 40-man roster to the big league club after aug 31st and while it wasn’t common to see all 40 players in the dugout it also wasn’t uncommon to see 30 of them in the dugout by the end of September. The new rule caps expansion to 28 and a max of 14 pitchers. To me this is ok, it prevents those games where you see reliever after reliever, pinch hitter after pinch hitter come up and go making games unnecessarily long and for what? Yea roster expansions in September needed this cap.
3. “Two-way Player Designation”
Two-way players are players who both hit and pitch. Shohei Otani of the Angels and Michael Lorenzen of the Cincinnati Reds are two such players. This designation allows these players to remain on the roster and not count against the pitcher maximum previously mentioned above. To qualify though a players must pitch at least 20 innings in the majors and start 20 games as a position player or DH where they bat 3 or more times. The purpose here is simple. It offers context to teams about why Otani and Lorenzen don’t count against the pitcher maximum for their team while also giving teams an avenue to apply that same designation to players if they choose to do so. I can see this in the future become the next big thing for teams as they try and find a way around the 13 pitcher max.
4. “Position Players Pitching”
Unless a game goes into extra innings, the team is up by six, or the team is down by six we can say goodbye to position players pitching-not withstanding injuries either. During normal circumstances only the teams designated 13 pitchers and two-way players are able to pitch. Teams in the last couple of seasons have been using position players more and more with teams in 2019 using 50 different position players to pitch in games. It’s a novel and fun part of the game to see this but baseball isn’t going to fall by the wayside cause we can’t Pablo Sandoval or Russell Martin pitch.
5. “The 27th Man”
As it used to be with the “26th man” it will be the same with the 27th. Under certain circumstances teams will still be allowed to call up a “27th” player-mainly a double header-and a 14th pitcher can be added in these circumstances.
- “Injured List and Option Periods”
Pitchers are going back to a 15-day IL and position players are staying at 10-day stints. Same goes for option periods, 15-day stints for pitchers now while position players stay at 10. This is in response to how teams were manipulating the shortened IL stint to rest pitchers as I described at the beginning of this piece. The negative consequences to pitchers saw the amount of innings they were now pitching compared to seasons past drop. When he left the mound of his final start of the 2016 season with what would have been a record setting WHIP of .725 Clayton Kershaw missed the mark by 13 innings pitched and subsequently lost a chance at history. The flexibility the new rule afforded the Dodgers and other teams the ability to manipulate the system at the expense of their pitchers. Imagine you’re a pitcher with incentives built into your contract based on how many innings you’ve pitched. Imagine missing those incentives because the team decided to manipulate the system just so they could carry and extra reliever into a game. It’s rather infuriating from a financial perspective because you’re effectively providing a way for teams to manipulate a players contract and not pay them. It’s not something that was fair to the pitchers and I’m happy it’s changing back.
- Challenge Time
Managers will now only have 20 seconds to decide if they want to challenge instead of 30 seconds. This again in context to pace of play makes sense-if we’re all being honest the replay system in itself is more time consuming than it should be.
These are the rule changes for 2020. They are not the end all be all to baseball and they are not going to change the game for the worse. Are they all going to be homer’s? Well that remains to be seen and there always unforeseen consequences that come with any change to the rules. Yet the MLB has shown the ability to go back and fix the rules they messed up like they’re doing with the IL for pitchers and I have confidence that will remain the status quo.
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