America's Pastime Takes Steps Toward the Future. For Better or Worse.
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As we near the start of the 2019 MLB regular season, we are beginning to learn some of the new rule changes that will be taking place this season and next season. For the most part, these changes are minor, but there is one rule that will literally change the way that the game of baseball is played on the professional level.
Changes Taking Place in the 2019 Season:
A Single Trade Deadline on July 31st
Up until now, the MLB has been unique in the sense that it has two trade deadlines. July 31st has always acted like a normal deadline, teams have until the day to trade anybody on their team, which was pretty straightforward. However, teams were able to complete trades in the month of August, but with a slight variation. For a trade to be completed in the month of August, a player would need to be placed on revocable waivers and clear without a team claiming them. If a player cleared through waivers, they would then be eligible to be traded. This was useful for teams in the playoff hunt; if a player was injured in early August, they could then make a trade to replace that player, or they could just acquire some extra depth for a postseason run.
However, with this new rule, there will no longer be a waiver trade deadline. From now on, all trades have to be completed by July 31st. This will add more strategy to team building. Teams will have to decide by July 31st if they want to trade for or trade away a player, which should make the deadline much more interesting. This will also affect how teams approach the off-season since they will no longer have the safety blanket of August trades to acquire more depth. This may lead to more players being signed in free agency in the off-season, which has been a major problem for the MLB over the past two off-seasons. Overall, I like this change.
The Winner of the Home Run Derby will receive $ 1 million
In an attempt to attract the biggest stars in the game to participate in the Home Run Derby, the MLB is going to reward them nicely. In the past, the league has had its fair share of superstars take part in the Derby - Bryce Harper won it last season, Aaron Judge the year before - however, it's rare that they get multiple superstars in the same Derby. Last season, Harper was the only bonafide superstar to participate, in 2017 both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton participated, but other than those three, the star power in those Derbies was severely lacking. Now, with the $1 million incentive, we should see a lot of superstars taking part; especially when you consider that a lot of the biggest names in the sport are still making less than $1 million for the entire season, such as Aaron Judge, Alex Bregman, Ronald Acuna, Rhys Hoskins, Cody Bellinger, and Shohei Ohtani. If you tell those players that they can make almost double their yearly salary in one night, I'm sure most of them would participate in the Derby. Overall, I like this change.
Changes Taking Place in the 2020 Season:
Regular Season Roster Expands from 25 to 26, September Rosters reduce from 40 to 28 This is great. The MLB is the only league where the final month of the season begins and the rosters almost double in size. I understand it from a player preservation viewpoint. If you can bring up some extra pitchers in September, then you can limit the number of innings your best pitchers throw leading up to the postseason, but I've never really cared for it.
With the added regular season spot, you can add another pitcher and limit the innings for some players throughout the entire season. Then in September, you get two extra players, instead of fifteen, who will make life a bit easier as you get prepared for the postseason.
For the people that would argue that this gives minor leaguers a chance to get some big league experience, your point is moot. A triple-A player may play, what, two or three times in September? But if the team is fighting to a playoff spot, then that triple-A player may not see the field at all. Also, teams aren't using September call-ups for their top prospects. They don't want to start that player's service time clock and lose an extra year of control. So, such a significant roster expansion is rather useless in the grand scheme of things. Overall, I love this change.
Pitcher Must Face a Minimum of Three Batters
No. No. No. For the love of God. No. I can't believe they are actually going to implement this. This is so incredibly stupid that there is no way that it's real.
Basically, a pitcher has to face three batters, unless they finish an inning or get injured before they meet the three batter requirement. So, if you bring in a lefty specialist to face a lefty in a bases-loaded situation, and that pitcher proceeds to give up an RBI single with a righty on deck, you have to leave that pitcher in. What if that righty comes to plate next and hits a bases-clearing triple? Have to leave him in. Then, the hitting side decides to pinch-hit a righty for a lefty? Have to leave the pitcher in. So, instead of being able to possibly limit the opposition to a run or two by using different relievers to get the matchups you want, you have now allowed four runs, and you're still not allowed to make a pitching change.
The MLB thinks that this is somehow going to improve the game and shorten the game length, but they couldn't be more wrong. If anything, this may actually make games longer. Let's say we're in the situation that I laid out above and the pitcher allows the first RBI single and now there's a righty at the plate. You know what I'm doing if I'm the manager? I'm bringing the trainer out to the mound and telling the lefty that it looks like he hurt his elbow. What's the umpire going to do? Accuse you of faking an injury? Good luck with that. Now we have a situation where the trainer and manager are on the mound, taking up time, only to decide that this pitcher, who isn't actually injured, is hurt enough that he has to leave the game. So we just wasted two or three minutes, and now they have to call in another reliever from the bullpen. Because he's being summoned due to injury, he gets to warm up for as long as he wants, even if he was already warming up in the bullpen in the first place. Also, since there's a pitching change, we now go to commercial, which takes another two minutes. So, in the end, we have made it through one batter and it took about seven or eight minutes. Way to go, MLB!
If you think this situation is far-fetched and unlikely to happen, you are in for a rude awakening. Do you think a manager cares about the pace of play when the game is on the line? The answer is no. Managers are going to do everything in their power to put their team in the best possible situation to win. If that means gaming the system a bit and faking an injury in order to get the lefty on lefty matchup that they want, they're going to do it.
This is just such an unnecessary change that I hope it only lasts for one season. It will be interesting to see how this actually affects the length of a game, but you're sacrificing the strategic part of the game to possibly make a game a couple of minutes shorter for the fairweather fans who only watch a game every once in a while. Also, the league is concerned about the lack of free agent signings and then they go ahead and make a move that could cost some pitchers their jobs. If a pitcher is incredible against either lefties or righties but isn't great against the other side, they just became a lot less useful to a team since a lefty specialist having to face one or two righties to meet the three batter minimum will make a manager think twice about putting them in the game in a crucial spot. Overall. I hate this change, as you can probably tell.
Rule That Still Needs to be Implemented:
There has long been talk about bringing in the DH to the National League, and I don't understand how it hasn't happened yet. The MLB and MLBPA have discussed this for a long time, but it still seems that we're a few years away from actually getting it.
In terms of rule changes, this is the most obvious rule change in all of sports. How can you possibly have a league where the two different conferences are playing the game under a completely different set of rules? Just think about the World Series itself. If the National League team has home field advantage then that means that pitchers are required to hit in four of the seven possible games. Let's say that the American League team has a player like David Ortiz or Nelson Cruz as their DH. Well, guess what? For four of the seven games to decide who wins the Championship, that player is going to have to play in the field if they want to hit, which makes the overall defence of the team much worse, and makes the lineup worse because Ortiz or Cruz may have to take the spot of another decent hitter.
In a world where teams are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the arms of their pitchers, you would think that they would do something to reduce the chance of injury. Just over the past couple of seasons, we have seen Jacob deGrom and Masahiro Tanaka both go down with injuries that were suffered while hitting or running the bases. It's a completely unnecessary risk that could cost a team their season if their star pitcher is injured near the end of the year or in the post-season because they pulled their hamstring running the bases, or hurt themselves while swinging at a pitch. People will also try to make the argument that watching pitchers hit is fun when in reality it's embarrassing. Most pitchers are lucky to have a batting average of .100, and in the whole league there are maybe two or three pitchers who are actually decent hitters, Madison Bumgarner is one name that comes to mind.
It also hurts National League teams when it comes to free agency or making trades. Last off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks were in contention to sign J.D. Martinez, but Arizona was in a tough spot since Martinez, who sucks at fielding, would have to play in the field every day. So, Arizona wasn't able to make the same kind of offer they would've if he could've been their DH. Martinez then signed with the Boston Red Sox, played DH, almost won the Triple Crown and won the World Series. If the Diamondbacks had a DH spot, they may have signed Martinez, made the playoffs and then competed for the championship. Much like the three batter minimum rule, not having a DH eliminates another fifteen jobs from a league that is desperate for players to get signed to teams.
Lastly, this may just be me, but I can't take the stat lines of National League pitchers seriously. Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are two of the best pitchers of all-time, but you can't tell me that they would have the same numbers year in year out if they were in the AL. They have the luxury of pitching to a pitcher, who rarely hits, a few times a game, and if the pitcher is taken out of the game, then they are pitching to a pinch-hitter who is just coming off the bench and is typically not a good enough player to get a starting job. So, every time that that National League pitcher pitches, they are getting three or four at-bats against either a pitcher or an average hitter who was just sitting on the bench for three hours before being put into the game. Meanwhile, American League pitchers have to deal with J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton or Nelson Cruz on a nightly basis.