MLB has released their rule changes for the 2020 season. We were already aware of most of the proposed changes, but there was a curve or two that not everyone is happy to see.
Fans will recall how vocal Terry Francona, Manager of the Cleveland Indians, has been about one of these rule changes. Specifically, Terry has expressed significant opposition to the three-batter rule. In short, the three-batter rule requires that every pitcher (both starters and relievers) must face at least three hitters or pitch until the inning is over before they can exit the game. Of course, if a pitcher is injured, he can exit early.
Francona is not happy with the rule because he is notorious for using specialists, such as a LOOGY (left-handed, one-out-guy) for just one inning to get out a specific hitter. While many teams do this, the Indians love their specialists. Unhappy as he may be, Francona and the Indians will have to adjust.
Here's a summary of the whole sea of Official MLB rule changes:
2020 MLB Rule Changes
1. Three-batter Minimum
Both starting pitchers and any substitute pitchers are now required to pitch to no less than three consecutive batters, until the batters are out or reach first base, or the offensive team is put out. The only exception is when the umpire-in-chief deems an injury has taken place to a pitcher that keeps him from being able to continue.
2. Roster Limits
Increase in active roster: Rosters during the regular season (through August 31st) and during the postseason are now expanded from 25 to 25 players, and teams are limited to carrying no more than 13 pitchers.
Roster reduction in September: Rosters past the regular season, in September, will be adjusted to no more than 28 players. Previously, September expansion rules allowed clubs to use any players on their 40-man roster. The goal of most of these rules is to shorten the length of games. This rule will keep clubs from using too many pitchers, which often lengthens games.
Two-way player designation: Teams can now designate someone as a "two-way player." Such players, rarely seen these days, include players like Shohei Ohtani, who is capable of both being a pitcher and a valued hitter. Shoehei could, for example, be designated as a two-way player. The benefit of this designation would be that such a player could stay on a team's roster and be both a position player and a pitcher, and not count toward the team's 13 pitcher limit.
Position players pitching: Position players are allowed to pitch if needed, but only if the game goes into extra innings or the team in question is either winning or losing by more than six runs. In normal games where it has not extended to extra innings, only pitchers from the list of 13 or those two-way players we mentioned previously can pitch.
27th man or extra player: Teams used to be able to call up that special 26th player in special circumstances, such as a double-header, so that player designation is now the "27th man" instead. A team could, for example, call up a 14th pitcher if needed.
3. Injury and Option Rules
Teams won't be able to reinstate any pitchers or two-way players until at least 15 days have elapsed from the onset of the injury in question. In the past, that period was 10 days for pitchers. Furthermore, any pitcher that a team options to the minor leagues must remain there for at least 15 days instead of 10. For position players, the option time remains at 10 days.
4. Challenge time reduction
The time a manager has to challenge a call on the field has now been reduced from 30 seconds to 20 seconds. Again, these rules are all designed, at least in part, to speed up pace of play and shorten game length. This rule was the only rule not previously announced.
That's a wrap
It will be interesting to see how teams and managers adjust to these new rules. My guess is that most will hardly be noticed, but they will cause teams to adjust some of their strategic decisions about rosters, and of course, how teams will use their relief specialists.
Mandy Bell of MLB.com gives an excellent report on how the Terry Francona and the Tribe's pitchers will prepare for the three-batter rule change.