On Wednesday, MLB officially announced a number of rule changes for the upcoming 2020 season. Pretty much all of these we already knew were coming, or at least were pretty sure about. There is, however, a difference between pretty sure and knowing, so it’s worth going over them quickly. Plus, there are plenty of people out there who focus on other, non-baseball things during the winter so they may be in the dark here.
Three-batter minimum rule
This is the biggest change heading into the new season, and the one that had caused the most hand-wringing. It states that a pitcher must face at least three batters, or end an inning, before being taken out of the game. Essentially, this is going to cut out the LOOGY role. I actually don’t mind this as much as some others seem to. For one thing, I don’t think this will come up as much as it may seem like it could. Plus, it could add an interesting strategy wrinkle when, for instance, a lefty is coming up for the other team and you have two outs. Do you bring in a lefty with big splits and bank on him getting the out, knowing he’ll have to face a couple righties after that if he doesn’t record the out? The big potential downside here is the injury clause. If a pitcher gets hurt they are obviously allowed to leave, but how to determine if there really is an injury is tough. I don’t know how I’d do it, but they are leaving it up to the umpire’s discretion and I can’t see that going well.
Active Roster Size
The active roster size is bumping up from 25 to 26. They are also limiting the number of pitchers a team can carry to 13. Nothing really to add here. This is fine.
September Roster Size
While the active roster size all year is going up, the September roster size is going down from 40 to 28. The number of pitchers a team can carry goes up to 14. This is good. Playing with 40 players in the most important month of the regular season was ridiculous. I understand the argument that this will hurt fringe players potentially making their major-league debut with the expanded rosters, but I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason to play with 15 extra players down the stretch.
Teams must now declare their players as position players and pitchers on their rosters. For the most part, that will be pretty straight-forward, but there is a wrinkle with the two-way players. Those will be defined as anyone who has had 20 MLB innings pitched and 20 MLB starts as a position player with at least three plate appearances in each of those starts in either the current season or the previous one. For 2020, that will include both 2019 and 2018. Two-way players will not count against the team’s 13 pitchers, meaning that teams with a two-way player can carry an extra pitcher. One interesting side-effect here would be whether or not teams now try to develop more two-way players to get the extra pitcher spot on the roster. It seems like it could be difficult to do given how relatively strict the restrictions are, but I can certainly see some teams trying it.
Position Players Pitching
Position players (not two-way players) may only pitch in extra innings or when their team is winning or losing by six runs. This is good. Position players pitching was getting entirely out of hand.
Injured List and Options
The injured list is going back to 15 days, but only pitchers. For position players, it will remain at ten. Similarly, pitchers who are optioned to the minors must remain there for 15 days before being called up instead of ten. Again, I like this as teams were taking advantage of the short window to constantly churn the bottom of their roster. There is some potential downside, though, with teams and pitchers now potentially trying to pitch through minor injuries.
Challenge Time Limits
Managers now had 20 seconds to decide to challenge a call rather than 30. Anything to shorten up that process is good.