MLB Caps off a Disappointing Off-Season with Questionable Rule Changes and Proposals

With the one exception of the Houston Astros organization still appearing classless, its been a week of change for Major League Baseball. On Wednesday, the league announced the full brunt of rule changes that will be a part of play for this coming season. They are, in to particular order:

  1. The 25-man roster is now the 26-man roster. Teams can have 26 players on their regular roster, but there is a limit of 13 pitchers. An additional man can still be added for double-headers.
  2. The September roster now only expands to 28 players, not 40.
  3. Players that pitch at least 20 innings AND play 20 games as a position player or DH with at least 3 at bats in those games are eligible to be named as a “Two Way Player” that will not count against your thirteen pitchers, but may pitch. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani or Reds’ Michael Lorenzo are prime examples of this type of player.
  4. Position players may only pitch if a game is in extra innings or their team is winning or losing by more than six runs.
  5. All pitchers must face at least 3 batters, or complete an inning before removal from the game, excepting injury or illness.
  6. Pitchers now have a 15-Day Injured List while position players will remain on the 10-Day IL.

Beyond this, MLB also had a, totally-not-meant-to-distract-from-the-Astros-press-conference “leak” occur about a new proposed playoff format. This format suggests that seven teams from each league make the playoffs. The team with the best record gets a first round bye, leaving six remaining teams to face each other. The two remaining division winners and the top wild-card team (teams ranked 2 thru 4) then get the chance to host a first round three game series versus teams seeded 5 thru 7. However, the two division winners would get to choose their opponents from the remaining three teams and would do so on television on the final night of the season after all games have ended.

The first round would be a set of three game series with all games hosted by the team with the better record. Completion of that round would lead to four remaining teams who would then play out the rest of the playoffs in the format we are familiar with from the end of the ’94 strike to 2011 with an LDS, LCS and World Series.

Where to begin? Lets start with rule changes.

Major League Baseball has just found new and exciting ways to take more and more of the power to innovate or make decisions out of the field manager’s hands. In a league where teams are becoming more and more cookie-cutter. In a time where advanced analytics have made it so that every single team thinks they have to play the exact same way- this abysmal all or nothing brand of baseball that now pervades the game. When we are ever so certain there is one and only one proper way to devise your batting order, we have just found more ways to make the field manager completely useless.

Teams have been given benefit of an additional roster spot but only if they use it a certain way. If newly named Royals manager, Mike Matheny really wants to roll with 16 pitchers and 10 position players, what is the problem with that? He’s not likely going to do it anyway, because he’d be in danger of a serious lack of flexibility to his fielders in case of injury. He would also have to feel super confident he would never need a pinch hitter or pinch runner. There is a built in advantage/disadvantage system from having a roster limit in the first place, what is the need for taking the ability to make nuanced decisions from these teams?

If Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino steps to the mound against the Angels in a 3-2 game in the 8th, and immediately walks Max Stassi and Tommy LaStella, why must he be required to face Mike Trout? This feels like a perfectly good time to remove him and use one of the other league-mandated, perfectly good 7 relief pitchers in the bullpen. For some reason, Rob Manfred doesn’t want that.

Why?!?! Pace of play? So the game can be 2 hours and 55 minutes long instead of 3 hours and 2 minutes long? Is that REALLY going to make some 15 year old in Los Angeles or Louisiana all that much more interested in watching baseball?

If baseball was really serious about improving the pace of play, they would literally put their money where their mouth is and sacrifice some of their ad revenue to get the game moving faster. No commercial breaks between half innings would be a good start. So would enforcing the “batter keeps 1 foot in the box” rule that they pretend to enforce in one April out of every five years. They can’t afford to do that though, because you might not get to see the most recent Taco Bell stat overlay brought to you by Budweiser or the shoehorned live read for the local car dealership before that critical pay-off pitch. Its bad enough that you can’t enjoy any cutaway shot of the stadium without being bombarded with sales.

But they aren’t serious about pace of play. I know they aren’t because none of these changes barely do anything. What Manfred and company are doing is the equivalent of slapping a new coat of paint on a 2005 Mitsubishi. Sure, its looks like you fixed it, but all the problems are still there. Nothing of any genuine substance has been attempted.

As for this playoff system, I don’t believe its even a legitimate proposal. I think this was partially a negotiation tactic on Manfred’s part, as described by Reds’ pitcher Trevor Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba. The timing though is purposeful, floated out the night before the Astros quasi-apologetic press conference in order to try to distract from the current fracas at hand. It fails, both as a distraction and an idea. In no way are multiple days off a benefit to a baseball team. Giving the team with the best record time off in a game that requires rhythm and routine is a detriment. You would think the Baseball Commissioner’s Office would have a clue on what might or might not be beneficial to a baseball team.

Beyond that, not everything has to be a reality show. Having a TV show for the 2nd and 3rd place teams to pick their opponent is asinine. This is a league that has to play some of their playoff games on their own network; a network that isn’t even on most basic cable packages. MLB suddenly thinks they can shop this reality show around to major networks? With their lack of media savvy, it will probably end up at midnight Monday morning on MLB Network.

And the benefit for all this? Just to make the 5 thru 7 seed teams angry enough to come out and try to beat the pants off their opponents. If the 2nd and 3rd place teams are smart they will just announce they are playing the 7 and 6 seeds respectively because that’s how things would line up with normal seeding. No big statements. No pageantry. Just a low profile announcement so you don’t anger your first round opponent. Let me tell you… that would make for amazing television!

Lets not forget the World Series barely fits into October as it is. Game 7 of the World Series last year was on October 30th. This year the season is starting on March 26th so that the Series would be ending on the 28th. I know the planet is getting hotter and hotter, but why do we insist on playing more and more baseball games where the potential for snow is possible? The season is more than long enough as it is. We don’t need an extended first round before the LDS.

Baseball isn’t perfect. Its never been perfect, its likely to never be perfect. Tinkering around the edges isn’t going to lead to perfection. All its going to do is alienate more and more purists that love the game for what its been, while not doing anything to drive interest in youth.

Bauer can explain better than I can how baseball could use its marketable players and the internet to promote itself way better than any of these changes could. Sometimes, the League Office just needs to get out of its own way, or better yet, get a clue.

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