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Odds and Ends

2020 MLB rule changes & their betting impact

Updated On: July 26, 2020, 3:53 pm ET

What are the 2020 MLB rule changes?

  • Teams will play 40 division games, and 20 interleague games against the corresponding division (Ex: AL East will play NL East).
  • The National League will use a designated hitter.
  • Pitchers must face three batters or complete a half-inning before being removed from the game.
  • If a game goes to extra innings, teams will begin with a runner on second base.
  • Rosters will start at 30 for the first two weeks, then 28 for the next two and 26 for the remainder.
  • Teams will also have a taxi squad which will allow for up to 60 players to be available for MLB games.


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How will the rule change affect the MLB odds?

Prepare for randomness with MLB Futures betting

Sixty games is nothing close to resembling a full MLB season. Sometimes it takes 60 games for hitters to get their timing down. Or a couple of months for starting pitchers to find their grooves. With a schedule this short all it will take is one major injury or one cold streak to derail a season. For example, the World Series champion Washington Nationals were just 27-33 after 60 games last year.

Conversely, one hot start means we could wind up with an unexpected team in the postseason. The point is to use caution when betting things like World Series or division title futures, and regular-season win totals. That said, maybe give a little added value to a dark horse team you like to win a division, or a live longshot for a player to lead the league in home runs. The Yankees' Gleyber Torres slashed .394/.467/1.045, with 13 homers in 75 plate appearances against the Orioles last season. They make up almost 17 percent of the Yankees’ games now.



A Boom in NL runs?

It has been long debated whether the National League should adopt the designated hitter, and the day is finally here. The junior circuit has generally been the higher scoring league, because, duh, they don’t have a pitcher hit. So, you can expect a small uptick in runs in the NL.

More importantly, this is going to give some roster flexibility to some teams. For example, the Cubs no longer have to worry about Kyle Schwarber having to patrol an outfield position. Additionally, it means teams like the Dodgers and Reds, with a ton of depth, become even more dangerous. It will be interesting to see how books evaluate these teams early on.


Bullpen Management

Two things with bullpens here. One, in this abbreviated season teams with bullpen depth should have an edge. And two, with the three-batter minimum rule in effect, managers will have to be more careful when deciding which reliever to call for each situation.

First off, just like hitters, it usually takes starters a little while to get a feel for all their pitches. So, in this 60-game sprint, there is going to be a premium on teams with good bullpens. The top five MLB teams in terms of ERA last season were:

  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Houston Astros
  • Cleveland Indians
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Los Angeles Dodgers

Other teams who should have excellent bullpens heading into 2020 are the Brewers, Padres and Yankees. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rays and Brewers only use starters for half their games.

And secondly, the bullpen management. Sorry Joe Girardi, the one-and-done specialist is gone. Girardi was notorious in New York for his many pitching changes, but managers will have to look much more closely at matchups now. And relievers who get thrown into jams will have to get out of them on their own. Which again, can lead to more runs being scored. Girardi is now in Philly but he’s not alone. Guys like the Rays' Kevin Cash, Joe Maddon - now with the Angels - and the Dodgers' Dave Roberts all love tinkering with their relievers (some to better ends than the others).


A Return to Small Ball

The extra-inning tweak is going to change games that need them quite a bit, and you are going to see far fewer walk-off homers. Bunting has kind of gone the way of the dodo in baseball, but you’ll see a return in 2020. The smart baseball play is to advance that runner on second to third with a bunt. Then all you need is a ball in play. You will see lots of run-on-contact plays, and tagging up on sacrifice flys. Imagine if you’re a team like the Braves, and will have a guy like Billy Hamilton on the bench most games. He comes in to pinch run, steals third, and the chances of scoring that run are very high. So keep an eye on teams with speedsters coming off the bench.


So what does it all mean for MLB betting?

To wrap it up, teams with strong bullpens and good bullpen management should have an advantage in daily moneyline wagers early on. But once the players get warmed up, teams with strong starting rotations should excel. Try to find some early-season value in National League totals. And use caution when wagering futures, while maybe taking a look at some live long shots who have a little more value in the shorted season.

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