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Grading the 2020 rule changes

Overall, they were pretty meh.

MLB: AL Wild Card-Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

I feel like one of the biggest things about the 2020 baseball season that has been sort of tossed aside and underrated in its weirdness is that it was all thrown together at the last minute. I mean, that’s inevitable in a season affected so heavily by a global pandemic, but rules were literally made up as we went along. The new playoff system was only reported an hour or so before the first pitch of the regular season, and it wasn’t even officially announced until after that opening game had begun. Other rules were added as the season went along. Again, everything is at least understandable in the context of this year, but also it was really weird and I feel like that should be the first thing mentioned when we talk specifically about this baseball season.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post but rather just something I was thinking and had to throw out there in the form of the written word. I do, however, want to talk about the rule changes we saw this year and discuss my feelings on them moving forward. When you disagree you can let me know in the comments. I’m going to hand out Extremely Arbitrary grades for these, but only in the context of the rules moving forward. Again, this year is weird enough that all of the rules are fine because nothing matters. They could have decided to use tennis balls and I’d be like, “Eh, whatever they need to do to make this work, I guess.” But as we hopefully move into something resembling normal for 2021, some of these rules — perhaps all? — could be here to stay, and whether or not they are good long-term is a different story than their validity for 2020.

These are listed in no particular order besides the order in which they popped into my head.

Expanded Playoffs

Grade: D

Let’s start off with the one in which the Red Sox did not participate. The 16-team playoff field is fine this year because we only played 60 games and a couple of teams had entire weeks wiped out because of the virus. Similar to the tennis ball thing above, they could have just made it a 30-team tournament and I would’ve been fine with it. But moving forward, this idea sucks, particularly in its current form. Baseball is defined, for better or for worse, by the fact that it is played every day for six months. The regular season is a huge part of baseball in a way that is not true for any other sport. To make such a grind of a regular season worth it, you need to reward fewer teams. If you want a large playoff field, you need to shorten the regular season significantly, which obviously is not going to happen.

The big side effect if this current format is carried over moving forward is that there is simply no reason to build a great team. Teams would now be incentivized to build a pretty good one and just stop there, because there isn’t any real discernible advantage between the one and eight seed beyond home field. Owners aren’t going to want to add $40 million or whatever to their payroll for that small advantage. The only reason I don’t give an F is because of the possibility they expand under a different format in which there is an actual, significant advantage for the division winners. I still wouldn’t like more teams in the postseason, but I could at least live with it a little more than what we have this year.

Runner on second in extra innings

Grade: C

I came into this season expecting to absolutely despise this rule, and while I still think it’s better to not have it than have it, I didn’t hate it as much as I thought. My biggest fear was that we’d be seeing bunts to start off every extra inning, and fortunately that didn’t happen. It also succeeded in shortening extra inning games a bit, and I think that’s a valid concern. Long postseason games are great, but a random game in June going 17 innings and destroying pitching staffs just isn’t worth it, particularly when that usually ends with a young pitcher being sent down to the minors and potentially not coming back up for a long time just because a team needed someone to throw many more pitches than usual.

That said, I still can’t really get over the gimmick-y-ness of it all. It feels like shootouts in hockey. This is probably sacrilegious to some baseball fans, but I think ties are the way to go if you think long regular season games are an issue, which I do. Just call it a tie after 12 innings or something like that and we’ll all move on with our lives.

Universal DH

Grade: A

Finally. Look, I get tradition and all that but there are lots of things from baseball’s old days that we don’t keep around and this needs to be one of them. There is just nothing good about pitchers hitting. This argument has been had by literally every baseball fan a billion times so I won’t go too into it, but the strategy thing is dumb. There is no strategy in deciding to bunt because the guy at the plate hits .095. And double switching isn’t really that tough. I figured it out when I was like 10. Let’s move into the 21st century, eh?

Three-batter minimum for pitchers

Grade: B

This was a change that was going to happen even before COVID messed with the entire season. I came into the year expecting to not even really notice it was a thing, and that was mostly the case. I think in all of the games I watched this summer I thought about this rule maybe three times at most. It’s one of those things that got a lot of hype when it was announced, but these situations really don’t come up all that often. I probably prefer a different way of preventing using a billion pitchers in a game like limiting the number of pitchers on the roster to 12 or something along those lines, but this was fine. Assuming they keep it, I will again expect to not notice it at all.

Seven-inning doubleheader

Grade: F

Get all the way outta here with this one. Baseball is nine innings. You can’t just change the rules of the sport because of rain. Again, this year is whatever. But I will have a major problem if this continues. Allow two extra players for doubleheaders if you really are that concerned, but baseball is nine innings. Period. I feel like an old man with that sentence, but I’m less than six months to 30 so I guess my youth is fleeting. Might as well get it over with.