Sweeping MLB rule changes have been announced and more are forthcoming. But, here’s a couple of rule changes that should be on the table…
Note: This is Part Two of two. The previous installment covered why rule changes are needed in baseball. This one tackles an examination of current and future rule changes.
The Current Rule Changes
The season of MLB rule changes is upon us. Already, Major League Baseball has announced rule changes, a few of which will be in effect when the 2019 season begins. The first involves inning breaks: Time between frames will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. Whoopy-do. Can it really get that ridiculous, all in the name of shaving off a minute – maybe two – to the length of games?
But no, there is some meat in the forthcoming changes. The big one taking effect this season is eliminating all transactions between teams (no more wavier deals) after the July 31 trade deadline.
The impact of this rule change will fall heaviest on teams in the middle of the pack at the deadline. Do they fold the tent, or make some moves in this now or never new scenario. And what about injuries that may occur to key players on a team in contention, but with nowhere to go for an outside replacement as of August 1st? Enter the stress on general managers to ensure depth at every position on their 40-man roster.
And finally, the prize money for the winner of the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game is now increased to a cool one million dollars. This with the hope that younger players making the major league minimum of about a half-million dollars will want to apply for entry. Aaron Judge has already said no way, but perhaps others will be enticed.
Rule Changes In 2020
Briefly, because I want to get to the main impetus of this article, rosters will increase from 25 to 26 active players. Come September, when there was no room in the dugout for as many as 40 active players, teams will have to get by with only 28.
In limbo, at the moment because the Player’s Association is balking, is a rule change to make a relief pitcher face a minimum of three batters or close out a half-inning before another reliever can be called in.
Randy Choate, a quote-unquote left-handed specialist, would have never lasted fifteen years in the big leagues if this rule was in effect when he was playing – and therein lies the complaint of the players, selfishly protecting what they call a “job” designed for a pitcher to retire one batter before showering.
Proposals For The Future
The bane of Commissioner Rob Manfred has been to “speed up the game”. Why I don’t know, but for the sake of argument here, let’s just say he’s right. His problem, though, is he can’t do anything about the most obvious delays in action – which is the time it takes to supposedly “change sides” between innings.
And that’s, of course, due to the need for everyone to collect the monies during the “We’ll be right back” breaks in the action. So, that’s a non-starter as you can see also from the wimpy rule change noted above.
So, let’s start clean. What rule changes can make a difference – without destroying the integrity of the game? And, more significantly, how best to study and implement these rule changes.
Proposed Rule Change One
The first novel rule change idea comes from Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who, recently proposed incorporating ties into baseball. Ties and a points system. A team that wins a game gets three points, but only one point is awarded to both teams if a tie exists after nine innings. Here’s the way the player known as “The Shark” explained his cause:
The impact of this rule change is fascinating. One, all East Coast games are guaranteed to end well before the local news broadcast, enabling young fans of the future to watch a game and still be ready for school the next day, something that is truly lacking in the game today.
Second, bullpen arms, and in some cases even the arms of position players forced to pitch in the sixteenth inning of a game, will be saved. Strategically, managers will need to decide when and if they “play for a tie”, especially in games on the road where the home team always has that final chance to win a game.
The idea came from a player, but you have to wonder the reception this rule change might get if presented to the Player’s Association. Does the possibility not arise, for instance, that teams will no longer need to stock their bullpen with the high numbers we see today? Bringing to the floor once again the reason for the Union’s existence – jobs!
CBS Sports did a study of the impact on last year’s standings, finding that in the American League nothing is changed. However, in the National League, the Rockies climb over the Dodgers and the Brewers over the Cubs for the respective Division titles.
Of course, those results are false positives because managers and players didn’t know they were playing games and employing strategy based on new circumstances.
No matter, from this fan’s perspective this one is almost a no-brainer. Nine innings of baseball should be enough to satisfy anyone’s appetite for the game – for one night. This one should move forward to the negotiation table.
Proposed Rule Change Two
This one comes from former New York Mets General Manager, Steve Phillips. In case you didn’t know, Phillips, along with Eduardo Perez, host a morning show on MLB Radio – Sirius XM, which is a delightful and informative way to start a day.
Steve Phillips has long been a proponent of speeding up the game too, but he has a different and somewhat revolutionary way to accomplish that goal.
He says baseball needs to adopt a rule change to go to three balls and two strikes in an at-bat. Did you get that? He’s saying a pitcher will throw two fewer pitches to each batter. Imagine the implications.
Phillips justifies his stance by saying (and we assume he’s done the research) that forty percent of all at-bats reach a 1-1 count anyway, so why not start there, to begin with? Makes sense, but there’s more.
How many times have you seen (boring) a pitcher “work the count”, deliberately throwing a ball to a hitter on a count in his favor in hopes the batter might chase the pitch? Then, we have the hitters who aren’t stupid either. How many times have you seen a batter, and at this level, they can do this, purposely foul off a pitch that isn’t to his liking?
We don’t even think about it, but here’s the impact of foul balls, the equivalent of a “pass” if you are a betting person. There were almost 14,000 more foul balls hit last season than there were 20 seasons earlier. Plus, according to the same source, overall, there were 26,313 more pitches in baseball in 2018 (724,447) than in 1998 (698,134). Is there any wonder why games last longer than ever before?
Change The Rules?, A Yes From This Long-Time Fan
I’ve been following this majestic game for more than a half-century, and while I want to grasp onto the game of Rounders as it was once called in the Nineteenth Century, baseball, as we know it today is in need of revolutionary rule changes in order to keep pace with American Culture and the “speed-up” of everything we know today.
Whether it be a President setting policy on Twitter or Instant Replay, baseball is now transcended by that elusive thing called time, of which no one seems to have any time for.
Much like the 1960s in American Culture, when the time was ripe for change and sweeping Civil Rights legislation was enacted, it seems baseball is ready for rule changes that bring the sport into the 21st Century.
Forming A Rules Change Committee
I’m proposing that Commissioner Manfred appoint a rules change “Czar”. He (or she) would be given the power to appoint members to his committee, supplied with a budget for studying various proposals, and here’s the cruncher, the power to implement changes as the Committee sees fit.
My suggestion for the head of the committee is Ron Darling, the erudite commentator and former pitcher for the New York Mets. His committee is to be composed of former owners, general managers, managers, and players. Non-binding polls of fans can also be part of the process.
That is, no current members from any of these groups. This is imperative because anyone from the current stock has vested interests, guaranteeing the exercise becomes political, and a waste of time and money.
Transferring power to a committee of this kind is, of course, a political move involving courage from the Commissioner, and on down the line. But then again, so was the move made by Rosa Parks when she refused to sit in the back of the bus.
Your thoughts and comments, please.