The powers that be in Major League Baseball are once again discussing potential rule changes for the upcoming season. I’m not sure why they do this so close to spring training, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the owners and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) have exchanged proposals of various rule changes that the two sides would like to implement, possibly as early as 2019.
The highlight of Rosenthal’s article is a proposed rule that would force pitchers to face a minimum of three batters upon entering the game. This would apply to both openers, who became a new fad during the 2018 season, as well as late-inning relievers. Other rules proposed by the league (read: owners) include a reduction in mound visits in both 2019 and 2020, and a 26-man roster for the 2020 season. Baseball also wants to return the minimum time a player can spend on the disabled list to 15 days.
The MLBPA responded to baseball’s proposal with a few potential rule changes of their own. The big nugget? A universal designated hitter, something the union has wanted for years now. The MLBPA also voiced concerns about “competitive integrity and service-time manipulation in multi-faceted fashion,” but aside from a vague mention of lowering a team’s draft position if they do not win enough games, did not introduce any specific rule changes on that front.
Rosenthal also noted that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to implement a few rule changes he proposed prior to the 2018 season.
If no agreement is reached, the collective bargaining agreement empowers Manfred to unilaterally implement three elements he formally proposed last year, according to sources – a 20-second pitch clock, a reduction of mound visits from six to five and a rule placing a baserunner on second base in spring training games and the All-Star Game when the score is tied after the 10th inning.
Including the rules Manfred can put into place at his discretion, lets rank the proposed changes, because the internet demands lists.
1. Universal designated hitter
This one will obviously ruffle some feathers, but this is an American League site and we want to see all baseball played at the highest level possible. This means letting pitchers focus on pitching and, watching hitters do their best to turn around all that high-90s heat in today’s game. As Rosenthal notes, pitchers hit an abysmal .115 with a .144 on-base percentage last year. Even with our concerns about what the Tigers are going to do at the DH position in 2019, no one will be that bad.
Another short-term plus to this rule change: it would open up a much larger trade market for Nicholas Castellanos, who would be a much hotter commodity for National League teams looking to fill a new roster spot in 2019.
2. The 26-man roster
If approved, this rule would not take effect until 2020. However, expanding the everyday roster has been a long overdue change that baseball needs to make, especially as relievers have taken on more specialized roles over the years. Sure, it might slow games down a bit more if teams carry more eight and even nine-man bullpens, but it will also allow clubs to give their stars more rest throughout the year, especially for players — looking at you, Miguel Cabrera — who tend to play through minor aches and pains during the season, potentially to their detriment.
Another tweak not mentioned earlier: this rule also includes a reduction of the September roster from 40 players to 28. We are not sure whether this means the full roster, or just a modified “game day roster,” as some have proposed. Either way, this would help speed things along in those mid-September games when a gung-ho manager — looking at you, Robin Ventura — empties his bullpen in search for a meaningless W.
3. 20-second pitch clock
I’m cool with it. Don’t @ me.
4. A three-batter minimum for all pitchers
We’re already into “best of the worst” territory here, and the three-batter minimum gets top billing simply because I don’t think it’s going to have that big of an impact on the game. As Rosenthal noted, only five “openers” faced fewer than three batters during the regular season. Most of those pitchers were tasked with getting through the entire first inning, if not a bit longer, so the rule would not have much (if any) impact on that particular strategy.
Even the number of relief appearances affected by this proposed rule seems overstated.
The overall percentage of relief appearances lasting less than three batters began to rise when Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa helped launch specialized bullpens in the late 1980s. But it mostly has held steady in the three decades since, ranging from 15.5 to 15.1 to 15.7 percent, including 14.1 percent last season.
Teams and players will do everything they can to skirt around this rule — there will be some sort of “injury clause” to it, I’m sure — but of all the remaining rule changes proposed, this one doesn’t seem all that bad.
5. Whatever that draft rule is going to be
I don’t know if it will have a huge impact on tanking, and it will penalize teams that were accidentally bad — including each of the last three teams to pick No. 1 overall — but I’m interested to see what the MLBPA comes up with on this front. I don’t see any way it gets passed, though.
6. The “runner on second base in extra innings” nonsense
The only reason I didn’t put this rule change at No. 37,249 on our list is because it only seems to be slated for use in spring training (whatevs) and the All-Star Game. Now that the Midsummer Classic is back to being an exhibition like the good man upstairs intended, they can do whatever they want with the extra innings. I’d rather watch the Home Run Derby anyway.
7. The reduction in mound visits
Taking away a single mound visit from teams in 2019 isn’t so bad, but reducing a team to just three mound visits by the 2020 season seems like a ridiculous way to address pace of play. There is data showing that the mound visits aren’t the problem, yet baseball continues to offer up half-brained rule changes that will have a minimal effect on how long it takes to play the game. I don’t want to see 20 mound visits a game on either side, but limiting a team to just three seems excessive (and ripe for plenty of shenanigans from catchers around the league).
8. A 15-day minimum for the disabled list
This is the one rule I am seriously hoping does not take effect. By reducing the minimum stay on the disabled list to just 10 days, it allowed teams to be more cautious with injured players and rest them for a few days, rather than a player potentially coming back too soon and getting re-injured. Sure, the Los Angeles Dodgers (and other teams, probably) took advantage of the rule a bit, but I’d rather see teams game the system than the system be an impediment to players taking care of their bodies.