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Breaking down MLB’s rules changes: The good, the bad, and the weird

Our own Stephen Tolbert broke down the proposed rules changes for the 2019 and 2020 season.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As Major League Baseball and the Players Association attempt to mend a wounded relationship, one byproduct has been a series of discussed rule changes. As of this morning, some of those changes have even been agreed upon by both parties and are coming to the majors. Others are being experimented on in independent ball to see which have some real possibility and which are just nonsense.

This will be a 2-part series. Today we’re looking at the agreed upon changes announced this morning, some coming this year, and some in 2020. Part 2 will be looking at the proposed rule changes being experimented on in the Atlantic League.

Three Batter Minimum for Pitchers

Specialization has come to MLB the last few years and it has come with a reckoning. Teams have realized the incredible advantages that comes with always being on the positive side of the platoon splits and have adjusted. This has led to, frankly, a preposterous amount of pitching changes in the later innings of games and, as a result, a sloth like pace. The worst part has been, as the games have gotten more important, September games and the playoffs, the pitching changes only increase while the pace worsens.

The 3 batter minimum basically says, with exception to the end of an inning or injury, a pitcher brought into the game must face at least 3 batters. This is the simplest and most direct way to attack the problem. Not only does it remove the horribly common practice of 3 pitchers being brought in to get 3 outs in an inning, but also adds some strategy into the game. If the lineup a team is facing has been optimized L, R, L, etc, then which pitcher do they bring in knowing they have to face at least 3 hitters? Managers will have to answer that starting in 2020.

The rule change won’t end one out relief appearances entirely, of course. The 3 batter minimum doesn’t apply if the inning ends. So 2 outs in an inning, a manager can still call on a guy for one out, but it at least it begins to address the issue.

A byproduct of a rule that’s designed to improve pace will be more offense, which is fine by MLB. Pitchers won’t always have the platoon advantage as they’ve had before and thus offensive production should go up. Also, as many have pointed out, one downside is basically the removal of LH specialist from the game. But that really isn’t how it should be viewed. The game isn’t taking away jobs from specialist but instead, they’re giving those jobs to more complete pitchers. This is a good rule.

Only One Trade Deadline

Considering the name of it was the trade deadline, it’s kind of funny there was ever more than one. But now, the July 31st deadline will be the last opportunity for teams to make a trade. No more August waiver trades. We don’t really know what this is going to player movement in the game. In theory, it should increase the amount of trades before the end July as teams know it’s their last chance to add pieces for their playoff runs. And if that is the case, then it’s a good rule. Player movement brings headlines and fan excitement and the more the league has of it, the better. These last two off-seasons have been brutal. But we’ll see what the consequences both intended and unintended end up being. This rule goes into effect starting in 2019.

All-Star Game Election Day

This one falls under the sort of weird category. MLB is changing the way All-Star teams are elected starting in 2019. Fans will still vote for the starters but the top 3 players at each position will then be put on a ballot for Election Day, a one-day online vote to determine who starts the mid-summer classic. Sure. It gives MLB a chance to market it’s stars better so I guess that’s the win but, yeah, this one doesn’t move the needle much.

There will be a 1 million dollar cash price for Home Run Derby winner which has an obvious intent of getting the best players to participate. Guys like Bryce Harper probably aren’t going to be moved much by the chance to win 1 million dollars but there’s no harm in trying to improve the participation during All-Star week.

Changing Roster Size

No doubt a change that was pursued by the Players Association, MLB rosters will expand from 25 to 26 starting in 2020. For them, more roster spots equal more potential jobs for their members. Teams having an extra roster spot to fill does add some team building strategy into the offseason and pushes further spending by owners, both which only improve the game.

In exchange, it seems MLB has gotten September rosters down from 40 to 28. It has long been a complaint that in September, when divisions are won and lost, the game is too radically changed by expanded rosters. Teams had sometimes 20 or 25 pitchers on their rosters and could turn any game into a slog fest. In return for giving the player’s union an extra player for the 6 month season, MLB has wisely used it as an opportunity to get September baseball back to looking more like April through August baseball.

Shortening Commercial Breaks

It appears MLB is putting its money where its mouth is on improving the pace of its games. Long thought to be a measure baseball would never consider, shorter commercials breaks are coming to our favorite pastime. Obviously decreasing the amount of time they can show advertising during the games, MLB is taking a financial hit to get more actual baseball on TV screens and it’s not a small hit. Commercial times will be cut by 33%, going from 3 minute breaks to 2 minute breaks and there’s even an option to shorten them even more. Conventional wisdom says the split screen ad model is coming to baseball at some point, but no one should be complaining about less commercials and more baseball. And no one can say MLB isn’t serious about their pace intuitive.