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Early Impressions on Some New Rules

August 9, 2020

Hugh Atkins

I always have considered myself a baseball purist. I don’t like the designated hitter or interleague play. But as baseball enters the third week of its abbreviated season, I have to say I like some of the new rules Major League Baseball put in place for 2020.

I am surprised to say that I like the requirement that relief pitchers face a minimum of three batters. I hate that the game has turned into an endless parade of relievers in the late innings, but I was leery of a rule dictating how a manager uses his pitchers. While the main purpose of the three-batter minimum is to shorten the time of the game, this rule also adds another degree of strategy.

In the first game of today’s doubleheader between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, manager Joe Girardi of the Phillies brought in left-hander Adam Morgan to face the lefty-swinging Freddie Freeman. Morgan gave up a first-pitch single to Freeman and walked right-handed hitter Macell Ozuna.

With Nick Markakis, a left-handed hitter due up, Braves’ manager Brian Snitker opted to use pinch hitter Adam Duvall, a right-handed hitter. In past seasons, Girardi likely would have countered with a right-handed reliever, but Morgan had faced only two batters. Snitker’s strategy paid off as Duvall promptly banged a bases-clearing double into the left-field corner.

Adam Duvall

© T.C.G.

The three-batter minimum rule requires the manager to look more than one batter ahead–and further down the opposing bench–when changing pitchers. I think that’s a good thing.

Speaking of doubleheaders, I easily could get used to twinbills consisting of two seven innings games. I look at it as taking out the sixth and seventh innings of a traditional game where managers had begun to clog the boxscore with relief pitchers. At the very least, I think MLB should go to the minor league model of doubleheaders consisting of a nine-inning game followed by a seven-inning contest.

Just because I’m on board with a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and two seven-inning games in a doubleheader doesn’t mean I like all the new rules. I hate the concept of placing a runner at second base at the start of all extra innings. The visiting team seems to get an unfair advantage from this rule. Through no effort of its own, the visiting team is automatically in a scoring situation, and the home team’s pitcher, through no fault of his own, is automatically in a jam. It will be interesting to see how many times the visiting team wins by getting the first free runner of the game across the plate.

Since MLB is willing to take such a radical step, perhaps they should consider a coin flip before the tenth inning and allow the winner to decide whether they want to bat first or defer. If a coin toss seems too much like the National Football League, then maybe MLB should allow the home team to decide whether they want to bat first. Besides, when we were kids, didn’t we always want to be in “town first”? No matter how they tweak it, I don’t see myself ever liking this rule.

MLB may as well use the 60-game season to test new rules. They can see what works well and what doesn’t and then decide what to keep, alter, or discard.

With my luck, if baseball returns for a full season next year, they will keep the universal DH and the runner on second at the start of extra innings, while dropping the three-batter minimum and adding more interleague play.

And I started this post as such an optimist.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2020 9:33 am

    Both teams get a runner in extra innings so there is no advantage for the away team. I agree with you on the rule changes, though, and the 3 batter minimum adding another degree of strategy is refreshing and accords new strategy to contemplate for these common modern day button-pushing managers.
    Great post as always.


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