Major League Baseball announced on Monday the official rule changes that will be in place for the 2020 season. Taken from its press release:
- Three-Batter Minimum: The Official Baseball Rules have been amended to require the starting or any relief pitcher to pitch to a minimum of three batters, including the batter then at bat (or any substitute batter), until such batters are put out or reach base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire crew chief’s judgment, incapacitates him from further play as a pitcher. The three-batter minimum will become effective in 2020 Spring Training beginning on Thursday, March 12th.
- Active Roster Limits:
- Rosters through August 31st and Postseason: Active Roster limits from Opening Day through August 31st and including Postseason games shall be increased from 25 to 26. In addition, Clubs will be permitted to carry a maximum of 13 pitchers from Opening Day through August 31st (plus Postseason games).
- September Rosters: From September 1st through the end of the Championship Season (including any tiebreaker games), all Clubs must carry 28 players on the Active Roster. In addition, Clubs will be permitted to carry a maximum of 14 pitchers during this period.
- Two-Way Player Designation: Players who qualify as “Two-Way Players” may appear as pitchers during a game without counting toward a Clubs’ pitcher limitations. A player will qualify as a “Two-Way Player” only if he accrues both: (i) at least 20 Major League innings pitched; and (ii) at least 20 Major League games started (as a position player or designated hitter) with at least three plate appearances in each of those games, in either the current Championship Season or the prior Championship Season (for 2020 only, this will include 2019 as well as 2018). The Club must designate that player as a “Two-Way Player” in advance of that game. Once a Club designates a qualified “Two-Way Player” that designation will remain in effect, and cannot change, for the remainder of that Championship Season and Postseason.
- Position Players Pitching: Any player may appear as a pitcher following the 9th inning of an extra inning game, or in any game in which his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when the player enters as a pitcher.
- Extra Player Rule: The previous “26th player rule” will be replaced with the “27th player rule” for all applicable Championship Season games prior to September 1st. The 27th player shall not count toward any pitcher roster limits described above. Thus, a Club may designate 14 pitchers in games under circumstances where the Major League Rules would permit a 27th Active player.
- Injured List Reinstatements and Option Period for Pitchers: Clubs may not reinstate pitchers or Two-Way Players from the Injured List until 15 days have elapsed from the date of the initial placement for such injury – an increase from 10 days. In addition, the option period for pitchers will be lengthened from 10 days to 15 days.
- Reduction in Challenge Time: Managers will now have up to 20 seconds to challenge a play instead of 30.
The three-batter minimum is the most radical change on the list and will likely get most of the attention. The initial reaction to the change was mostly negative, but the impact of the rule is likely overblown in both directions. It won’t destroy the strategy of bullpen usage, as some have suggested, and it likely won’t reduce the average time of games by anymore more than a minute or two. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been laser focused on making the pace of play better, so this is one more attempt at doing that. I’m not sold. I also see the potential for managers to fib about their pitchers’ health in order to skirt around the rule.
The September roster change will likely have the biggest impact of anything on this list. Reducing roster expansion to 28 players — and limiting the total number of pitchers to 14 — will make watching September baseball games much better. Previously, teams made myriad double-switches and mid-inning pitching changes since they had 40 players (around 20 of which were pitchers) to work with. In addition, we won’t have playoff races unfairly impacted by teams getting lucky or unlucky with scheduling. Some teams happened to often face teams out of contention in September, so they would play loose and fast with all the players on the roster. Rather than attempting to play a competitive game, some teams treated mid- and late-September games like spring training games, making sure their young guys got a couple of innings of work. If you were a playoff-focused team and happened to get two three-game series against a team out of the playoff picture, it was more or less a cakewalk as compared to what a July game could have looked like.
Regarding pitching players pitching, this seems to be an attempt to curb teams more or less conceding in the middle of an otherwise competitive game. We saw on several occasions last year non-competitive teams bringing in position players in close games simply to avoid overworking their pitchers.
The “two-way player” rule may as well be called the Shohei Ohtani rule. He’s the only player who currently qualifies for the distinction and it seems rather difficult to attain, which is the point.