For the last few years, Major League Baseball has been trying to fix some of their problems. Chief among those problems were complaints that was not enough action taking place in the game and that games simply took too long.
And now, they are taking steps to try and mitigate some of those problems.
As first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, changes are coming to how All Star teams are selected, and the prize for winning the MLB Home Run Derby is increasing to a cool $1 million. Those are two things that should help drive fan interest in the game. In addition, a single trade deadline is being instituted starting this season, one that will end on July 31. The traditional waiver trade deadline of August 31 will be no more.
But starting in 2020, even bigger changes are in store. Chief among them is a rule that would require any pitcher to face at least three batters when they enter a game (unless they are injured or are brought in to get the last out of an inning and are scheduled to hit the following half-inning). There will also be an increase in roster sizes from 25 to 26, and teams will no longer have the ability to call-up anyone on their 40-man roster to the big leagues in September. Instead, September rosters will be limited to 28 players, with discussions between the league and union continuing as to how to limit the number of pitchers on that 28-man roster. In addition, commercial breaks between half-innings will be shortened to two minutes, both for local and national games.
Many of these items were agreed upon by the player’s union, but not the three-batter minimum. However, they chose not to challenge the league’s ability to institute that new rule unilaterally, in exchange for commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision not to employ a 20-second pitch clock.
The idea behind these changes is to help speed up the game and to reduce the number of lengthy pitching changes that has become the norm in baseball. And it will affect the Phillies.
Under the new rules, managers like Gabe Kapler will have to adjust their in-game strategy. Big league skippers have reams of data telling them which pitchers match up against which kinds of hitters, and many have taken that info and run with it, resulting in managers swapping out a lefty to face a lefty, followed by a righty to face a righty, followed by another lefty to face a left, all in one inning.
It might be good strategy, but it’s impossible for the casual fan to watch.
According to Baseball Reference, there was an average of 4.36 pitchers used per game last year, up from 4.22 the year before and 4.15 in 2016. Going back further, the difference was staggering. In 2008, there was an average of 3.92 pitchers per game, in 1998 it was 3.46 and in 1988 it was 2.75.
The trend is clear — managers are utilizing their bullpens more. And with some teams using “the opener” on a regular basis, the use of multiple pitchers in a game has increased even more. While a three-batter limit wouldn’t completely eliminate managers using a pitcher for one or two hitters, it would increase the value of pitchers who don’t have severe splits, and would sometimes force managers to leave in pitchers who struggle against certain types of hitters.
But this is a move worth making, as it could shorten games and remove an annoying part of the game that no one likes — pitching changes — and could help bring around more offense, too.
As for the roster changes, watching Kapler manage a 40-man roster last September was excruciating. You can’t blame him, he was simply using the rules to his advantage, but it was mind numbing to watch one pitcher after another parade to the mound like a high school talent show. It has long been ridiculous that baseball’s roster rules change so dramatically in the season’s final month, the most important month of the season, when teams are scraping and clawing their way over one another for a precious playoff spot.
Managers should have no trouble using a 28-man roster in the month of September. This was a rule change that was long overdue.
There are still a number of items that will be discussed by the two sides ahead of the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires at the end of the 2021 season. Extreme defensive shifting, which would likely rule out teams using four outfielders against players like Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, bringing the DH to the NL (please let this happen!) and the pitch clock will continue to be debated, among other issues. At that doesn’t even account for what will certainly be the most contentious part of the negotiations, the financial aspect of the CBA.
But for now, it’s a start, and a good one.
On the most recent edition of Hittin’ Season, Paul Boye and I spoke about some of these rules, specifically the four-outfielder rule, and talked about the need to trust the process with regard to spring training, not the results.