As we continue along in a postseason without the Red Sox, we are forced to at least partially look back at the season that was and how it influences the seasons to come. For the most part, for us at least, that is in relation to the Red Sox specifically and its players. However, there are some league-wide issues that affect everybody, first and foremost being rule changes on the field. In a 2020 season that was unlike any other, we saw a whole host of rule changes, which became the subject of this week’s staff roundtable. Specifically, I asked which rule changes, if any, would you like to see carried over moving forward?
I’ll hand it to MLB: they tried. Baseball is an old game and it’s changed over time. In 2019 there were a handful of experiments done across minor and independent leagues - changing the size of bases, robot umpires, etc. And in 2020 they tried to spice up the revamped 60-game season a bit: restrictions on relief pitchers leaving the game without having faced three batters, seven-inning doubleheaders, expanded playoffs ,etc. I wouldn’t keep any of these.
The relief pitcher situation in baseball is frustrating but I’m not sold this is the best answer. Maybe weakening pitchers by shifting the mound back or something to make them less effective overall rather than adding a managerial quirk. Baseball games are nine innings; end of story. More scheduled doubleheaders and a faster call to just cancel games in really bad weather sounds like a nice way to rework the schedule - pending a saner travel system that would allow for and benefit from, the extra days. And playoffs? You can’t include 16 of 30 teams. Even if we’re talking rumored expanding to 32 teams, that’s just too many. Regional completion? Sign me up. Universal DH? Again, I’m on board. The 26th man on the roster? Sure, keep that spot. And see what else is on the table for 2021. And maybe remove the automatic intentional walk.
There are a couple of the new rules that I would love to see stick around going forward. First, can we please keep the DH in the National League? I always thought it was strange that the two leagues played by different rules. Plus, watching pitchers hit is the worst. I also wish the increased roster size would remain. It seemed like more younger players made their debut this season. I also have enjoyed the way the Division Series has been this postseason with playing five games with zero days off. We are seeing more reliance on starting pitching and more strategy on when to use certain relievers.
The easy answer here is to permanently implement the universal DH. Having pitchers hit in one league and not another always bothered me, and it honestly made pitching slightly easier in the NL. It’s incredibly frustrating watching an NL team put together a 2-out rally knowing that their pitcher batting .031 is on deck. I know a lot of people enjoy the ‘strategy’ involved in deciding when to pinch hit, double switches, etc., but it really comes down to - would you rather see Jacob deGrom coming up to the plate in a tie game, or David Ortiz?
I’m generally in favor of most of the rules that were implemented this season, but the rule I most want to keep is the universal DH. I know a lot of people like watching pitchers hit for the novelty, and while it sometimes leads to great moments, it is usually just a waste of time. I find it hard to believe that this will be implemented for the next full season, but it feels like it is only a matter of time, so why not just keep this change permanently?
The only rule that I am dead set requiring for future baseball seasons is the universal DH rule. Everything else trialed out in 2020 has been hit or miss. I love the expanded playoff field. I like that regular season extra inning games are expedited (even if I also believe the rule of a runner on second to be inherently stupid). I love that relievers need to face a minimum of 3 batters before they can be taken out (tired of LOOGYs and such).
But the universal DH is the single greatest addition to the sport since the... advent of the DH in the American League. Pitchers hitting is a complete disgrace, and to see that shameful side of the game stamped out has been very rewarding to watch in interleague action this season. It also opens up a lineup slot for 15 extra players in the league, who would otherwise be bench players.
I’m going to go with the easy one here and say the universal DH. It’s overdue for the National League to join modern baseball and the DH, there really isn’t an argument against it at this point. As an avid fantasy player as well, it opens up some fun options on teams like the Dodgers, where a guy like Edwin Ríos can finally get consistent at-bats. The random pitcher dinger was fun but holding out because Bumgarner has a 1 in 100 shot to go yard versus batting someone who can hit over .100 should be the preferred route for the MLB.
There are three rules I’d like to see stay. First is the universal DH, which should’ve been implemented way back in 1973. Pitchers hitting is dumb. It’s awful to watch, leads to them getting hurt, and the novelty of seeing Madison Bumgarner take Clayton Kershaw deep isn’t worth the other thousands of terrible plate appearances and sacrifice bunts we sit through every year. Besides, there’s no functional difference between the AL and NL now that we’ve embraced interleague play. We saw Bartolo go yard, we can retire the DH now.
Second is the rule regarding suspended games. It’s never made sense that we restart a game because we didn’t make it through 4 1/2 innings before Mother Nature showed up. It’s totally arbitrary, outrageous, egregious, and preposterous. These games should be delayed and picked up where they left off. Baseball should not be lost to the ether because of a thunderstorm!
The last rule is the position player pitching rule as long as Shohei Ohtani is exempt. Position players pitching used to happen infrequently enough that it was notable and fun. In recent years, teams have developed a hare trigger when it comes to putting their last man on the bench on the mound in order to save the last man in the pen. I can’t name the game off the top of my head, but there was a game last year where a team brought in a position player to pitch only down five runs. (ed. note: It was the Rays against the Red Sox.) That shouldn’t be allowed to happen and only makes a further mockery of a game where a solid chunk of the league is actively trying to lose. It needs to be cut off before we get “trendy” teams punting games with their utility infielder on the mound in the 6th inning because they want the next tooled up 17-year-old shortstop with a commitment to Vandy at the top of the draft class.
The rule that I’d most like to see stick around is the designated hitter for the National League. I get that people don’t like change and that the National League has been having pitchers hit since before the silent film era. Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t make it a good idea. There are myriad examples of this throughout history and baseball history specifically, like the reserve clause. Just because it was there for a long time did not make it good. Simply put, pitchers are terrible hitters and the game would be more exciting to younger people if more runs had a chance to be scored. It also allows for more jobs and a more robust market for the J.D. Martinez types and I’m always for that. Keep it please.
The designated hitter is great and it’s good to see the National League be forced to get over itself and adopt it. I am fairly certain it’s going to be adopted league-wide regardless of what I will write here but just in case Rob Manfred is reading this: yes, it is time for all teams to play under the same set of rules. What a concept! I don’t so much mind the seven inning doubleheaders either but I think there’s no real reason to extend that and will be a little disappointed if they do. I’ll be furious if they do the extra innings nonsense again, though, which means it’s probably gonna happen. Just do the DH one and thank me later, Bob.
I already did a whole post on this so I won’t go over it again. I will add, though, that I agree with Shelly about the no days off thing. That said, it isn’t practical unless they continue doing these series on neutral fields post-COVD, and I’d hate that a lot. When travel returns, it’s just not feasible.