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Changing the rules

Major League Baseball is once more tinkering with its rules. Is that a good thing? Bad? Just weird? Grandsalami.net's Erik Lundegaard and Tim Harrison try to sort it all out.

ERIK: Any thoughts on the new rules changes scheduled for this year, Tim? I'm in the odd position of being fine with all of them. And, to be fair, two of them don't affect anything for fans: Players get more money for participating/winning the home run derby (sure, whatever), and there's five mound visits instead of six (great, have at).

TIM: Yeah, those are fine, the All-Star stuff doesn't really affect anything. Maybe the primary/general election for All-Stars setup will actually be fun. This year's changes don't bug me at all—I do hate the runner-on-second-to-start-an-inning thing but, for the All-Star Game, sure, whatever—but the ones scheduled for next year I'm not sure about.

ERIK: Wait, we glossed over the big one from this season: eliminating the August 31 trade deadline after the July 31 (non-waiver) trade deadline. To be honest, I was always a little dumbfounded whenever particularly big stars such as Justin Verlander were traded after July 31. I felt like channeling Gore Vidal in a 1996 essay, who wrote: "When last I nodded off, there was something called the Sherman Antitrust Act. Whatever happened to it?" For me it was, "When last I nodded off, there was a fucking trade deadline. Whatever happened to it?"

TIM: Right! July 31 was starting to feel like the appointment time for your friends who are always late. You tell them 7:30, but you know they won't get there 'til after 8. I'm all for this one—your team still lacking in August? TOO BAD. Maybe you can call up that prospect instead of screwing him on service time. That whole waiver-trade thing was just confusing and seemed to take something away from the July deadline hype. It's insane that someone like Verlander got dealt through waivers.

ERIK: Insane, but—and I know I'm arguing against myself here—ultimately for the better since Verlander went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS. Without him, the Bronx Bummers might've won their 28th championshp rather than the Astros winning their first. It's the one good that's come from that odd rule. But the bigger changes are for next year. And the biggest, to me, is unprecedented in baseball history, right?

TIM: Do you mean having to designate who's a pitcher and who's not, and proscribing how many players on your team can play a certain position? Or do you mean the three-batter minimum for pitchers? Either way, I'm not sure I like those. The three-batter limit might be OK, I guess. But having to declare so-and-so is a pitcher and such-and-such is a position player is another bit of specialization creep that isn't necessary. Yeah, non-pitchers will still be allowed to take the mound in blowouts and extra innings, so it won't really change much, but in principle it's, well, against principle.

ERIK: I was thinking of the three-batter minimum for pitchers, but let's talk the others first. I'm curious why someone thought those new rules were necessary. What's being prevented and what's being lost?

Seattle @ Boston 7/15/93
BattingABRHRBI
Rich Amaral 2B 4 0 1 1
Greg Litton LF 3 0 2 0
   Dennis Powell P 0 0 0 0
   Pete O'Brien PH 1 0 0 0
   Mike Felder LF 0 0 0 0
Ken Griffey Jr CF 4 0 0 0
Jay Buhner RF 3 0 1 0
Mike Blowers 3B 4 0 0 0
Marc Newfield DH 4 1 2 0
   Jeff Nelson P-LF-P 0 0 0 0
   Mike Hampton P 0 0 0 0
Tino Martinez 1B 4 1 2 0
Dave Valle C 3 0 0 1
Omar Vizquel SS 4 1 1 1
Team Totals 34 3 9 3

TIM: Generally the idea is to curtail mid-inning pitching changes on all fronts, but I don't see how designating who is a pitcher is relevant to that. I think the designation is related to limiting the number of pitchers you can carry—since you'll be limited to 13 pitchers, you have to declare who counts as a pitcher. And I have a few issues with that. First and foremost, the commissioner's office is taking some roster construction power away from managers/GMs in order to save them from themselves. I've been dreading the moment when the Mariners, for example, find themselves in a bind because they only have three bench guys, which they've done from time to time, and somebody gets hurt. If you choose to carry a ridiculous number of relievers, then your bench will suffer, and too many teams are just rolling those dice. But if teams want to be dumb, let them be dumb. Dumb shouldn't be against the rules. Secondly, this rule, if I understand it correctly, makes it nigh-impossible for there to ever be another Shohei Ohtani, as to be granted "two-way player" status you have to have pitched 20 innings and started in the field elsewhere (or as DH) in 20 games the year before, and how's that ever going to happen? And it eliminates the possibility of weird stuff like playing a pitcher in the outfield—Lou did that once in a while, and Davey Johnson did it a lot with the Mets in the '80s, he'd have Jesse Orosco and Rick Aguilera(?) trade places between the mound and left field so he could do matchups without burning more relievers. It's not like that's an everyday thing that people will miss, but it's not even possible anymore. And third, it doesn't help anything. 13 pitchers is an absurd number to have as it is, so making that the limit accomplishes zero. The three-batter rule at least has some effect, that's the thing that will deter pitching changes.

ERIK: Yeah, the pitcher/position player designation seems to be a solution to a problem that absolutely nobody viewed as a problem. Also, wouldn't it prevent some future Bert Campaneris or Cesar Tovar from playing all nine positions in a game unless they've been declared a "two-way" player beforehand? Meaning wouldn't it prevent fun? As for the idea that a pitcher has to face at least three batters in a game unless injured, etc.: Initially I was agin it. But then I wondered if it wouldn't make things even more strategic. Earlier I quoted Gore Vidal, so let me now quote another great writer/philosopher: Keith Hernandez. Eleven zillion years ago, I read his book "Pure Baseball," and in it he has a pretty good argument why the DH rule is problematic: It increases scoring at the expense of strategy. He contrasts it to the introduction of the three-point shot in basketball, which he favors, because that change increased scoring but also increased strategy. Being ahead by 3 wasn't enough anymore. You had to counter all of these other possibilities. The three-batter minimum is sort of similar. It raises so many strategic issues: from how you set up your lineup to who you bring in and when. You have to think three moves ahead—like in chess—instead of one. It'll hurt the lefty specialists, sure, the Tony Fossases of the world, but not many others. It'll be particularly interesting if a guy comes in but obviously doesn't have his good stuff: Can he last the three batters? What havoc may result? My one fear is we'll get bad theater: "Ump, my arm. Ouch!" If Billy Martin or Earl Weaver were around you know they'd be sending their pitchers to acting class.

TIM: Gotta love Keith Hernandez. OK, you've convinced me on the three-batter rule; maybe that'll turn out to be a good change. Speaking of Keith and the DH, another bit that irks me a little is the roster size thing. The rosters will go from 25 to 26 (and the September 40-man will become the September 28-man), which in and of itself is fine (even though, again, it's saving GMs/managers from themselves) but that possibility—a 26th roster spot—has long been thought of as a bargaining chip for the anti-DH people (count me among them). The union, it's thought, won't ever give up the DH because it provides 15 potentially high-paying jobs, but if they get 30 MLB jobs in exchange, for rank and file guys, they might go for it. Now that's gone, which bums me out as a DH opponent.

ERIK: And 26 to 28 in September? Seems kind of skimpy. Would Edgar have come up in Sept. '87 if it was just +2?

TIM: Who knows with the M's in those days. I mean, Darnell Coles was the man, right? I think this again is intended to deter pitching changes. It's probably not going to be that noticeable, frankly. How many guys get brought up as it is? Five or six? I'd make it 30 instead of 28 if it was up to me, but not a big deal.

ERIK: I'm sure that's all true but I'll miss the possibility in it—the hope that there's this cache of great talent in the minors to make our dull Septembers interesting. Now we'll just have our dull Septembers.

TIM: I don't know what to make of this—both of us are basically OK with something on Commissioner Manfred's wish list. What's happening to us? I mean, I hate change (in baseball)—I'm against the DH, I was against the Wild Card, Interleague play, the general existence of Bud Selig...

ERIK: There's still the rest of his list.

TIM: Right. Whew. OK. Yeah, those ideas are flat out crazy.

New Rules

What do you think of the new MLB rules in 2019/2020?

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