The commissioner of baseball is at it again, threatening to tinker with the very fabric of a centuries-old game.
Earlier in the week, Rob Manfred mentioned the likelihood of this year’s rule changes extending into next season. Put simply, the chances are high.
“People were wildly unenthusiastic about the changes,” Manfred is quoted as saying. “And when they saw them in action, they were much more positive.”
Okay, hold on there, Big Cheese. Were fans positive about these changes because they really liked them that much? Or in a season where more than 40 games were cancelled, were fans happy to see any baseball at all?
Manfred clearly chooses to believe his own egocentric worldview that always suggests he’s in the right. So fans should consider, what would be the impact of the various rule changes (COVID and non-COVID related) should they extend into next year?
The Three-Batter Minimum
Manfred liked what he saw on this front, though this rule gave managers constant headaches. The three batter minimum has essentially eliminated the need for ultra-high leverage bullpen arms. You know, the ones who come in for one batter just to get swapped out.
This year showed fans that despite the extinction of the loogies, that high leverage repertoire is still a valuable silver bullet. If bullpen arms want to stick around in the major leagues, they’ll have to face hitters from both sides of the plate. Or spectacularly fail while trying, either one.
Having a pitcher face a minimum three batters was implemented as a pace of play regulation. Manfred wanted to limit the time lost between a call to the bullpen, a short out, followed by another call to the pen.
Largely, the rule has done what its intended function sought.
This rule was a pre-COVID change in MLB, so it could be easier fans to swallow in the long run.
The proof seems to be in the pudding on this one; the number one seed made the postseason in the American and National League.
Though series were in more of a bracket structure than previous years, most of the matchups were compelling, and the complete chaos of the MLB postseason made its expected appearance. As documented on TGH before, the opportunity to see new and long-removed playoff teams back in the postseason was nearly worth the price of the weird season.
Again, almost worth the price.
Manfred and fans agree that 16 teams is probably a few too many. The concept is cool, but clean execution of that many games is something baseball would perhaps rather not repeat.
Thankfully, the best teams in baseball made it to the World Series this year.
Going forward, the working theory still expands the playoffs but with either 12 or 14 teams next season. Giving top seeds in each league a first round bye (similar to the NFL) has also been a popular topic of discussion.
Fans will be okay with this concept also. It’s always better to give teams more chances to win a World Series title, right?
Okay yes, unless that team is the Astros.
Runner on Second in Extra Innings
Coined everything from a ‘magic double’ to a ‘ghost runner’, this rule seemed a little… out there, even for MLB.
This was a stipulation developed with hopes of decreasing total time of games, total time in contact with other players and decreased likelihood of contacting COVID-19. The league reinvented a similar clause in place during the World Baseball Classic, also used when games go to extras.
Runs that scored were unearned; they didn’t count against a pitcher’s ERA. But batters still received credit for RBIs and runs scored under this system.
Besides ending games more quickly, there was a lot of resistance to this rule change. Why, fans questioned, is our closer being forced to work with men on base? How does a strategy change when teams know they need only one run instead of multiple?
And how can a team lose a game in an inning where they did not allow a hit?
All these questions are fair points of concern and epitomize the very essence of what this rule would do in games. Late-inning relievers are already impossible to notch consecutive hits off of. Placing traffic on the bases forces many of these relievers out of their element, makes them to confront a count or situation they did not arrive in organically.
Scoring a run like this might add one to a team’s win column, but that win will hardly ever appear in the court of fan opinion. It’s a stupid rule. A guy who records the last out of the previous inning can score the winning run without the benefit of a hit? Yeah, that all checks out…
The longer that leadoff runners in extras are utilized, the more heartbreaking losses will be. Inevitably, there will be a situation where a team who should not have lost — loses. Where a no-hitter turns into a loss on the pitcher’s record. Where magic double really is the difference.
Manfred appears to want this rule change to stick. Fans have a difference of opinion.
The Designated Hitter in the NL
This one is currently off the table, at least according to the commissioner.
Wait. Really? Manfred is willing to keep a rule that places a runner on second base who doesn’t deserve to be there but wants to discard a player in the lineup who hits for a pitcher?
Man, Manfred is a fun-killer.
Nearly all baseball writers and MLB insiders predicted that this dual-league DH was the component most likely to stick around after this season. Pitchers were not forced to handle the bat. Offenses were more robust. There was no need for the trademarked double-switch, a lovable component present for so many years in the National League.
Were Manfred truly serious about this, removing the DH, the outlook for many players would sharply shift this offseason.
Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL in home runs while the primary DH for the Braves, is set for a big payday this winter. Elsewhere, the Cubs got a chance to play Victor Caratini, their better defensive catcher, in the field while Willson Contreras could add his bat to the lineup.
And Ryan Braun, the career Milwaukee Brewer, is considering retirement this offseason. Without a designated hitter in the NL, Braun would likely function as a 37-year-old platoon guy next season. That’s a position where it’s incredibly difficult to put up meaningful production.
Removing the present DH seems to reincarnate many of the problems solved through the DH’s implementation. Sure, the designated hitter was only around for this season, but high-powered offenses are becoming a calling card for MLB pennant-chasers.
Like it or not, fans don’t want to see pitchers struggle at the plate. Instead, fans want that extra run and that extra competitive at-bat.
Now that the genie has been released, there’s no possible way to go back to what fans saw before. If the commissioner is smart, Manfred will soon realize this too.
Featured Image Courtesy of Drew Angerer & Getty Images
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