Designated hitter coming to the National League? Minimum number of hitters for a pitcher to face? Clocks and mound visits and more?
The annual disbursement of possible rule changes landed this week. Multiple reports outlined the ideas being discussed by Major League Baseball and the players’ union. Some are small. Some significant. All discussed on the latest Racing President podcast.
Two major suggestions came from the reports:
-- Make the designated hitter universal starting in 2019.
-- Force pitchers to face a three-batter minimum.
Let’s tackle the DH issue first.
The American League adopted this rule in 1973. The NL has held onto pitchers hitting, adding more strategy, and less offense, to the game since then. This is not the first push for both leagues to play with the DH. Altering the National League -- and doing so in a way that flushes a type of baseball for good -- is one part of the discussion. The other is the possible immediacy of the change. A week before spring training would be an unfair time to push the DH into the National League. Team rosters are in place (for the most part). Players signed contracts based on being part of a platoon as opposed to a full-time DH. Think of Matt Adams. His value would rise if he could be a DH. Here, he would be stuck until next season because a rule change came in February and not November.
Forcing pitchers to face a minimum of three hitters would reduce in-game changes. That, presumably, speeds the action of the game up. It also hinders strategy for the manager of the pitching team. He can’t counter the opposition’s counter if forced to keep a specific pitcher in the game.
Of note here is both proposals are geared to boost offense. Pitchers -- who hit a combined .115 last season -- would be replaced by resident thumpers. High-octane bullpens would be challenged in both workload and advantage if pitchers were forced to face a minimum of three batters.
Other proposed ideas include reducing mound visits; an expansion of rosters from 25 to 26 in 2020, with an accompanying reduction from 40 to 28 in September; increasing the minimum time a player spends on the disabled list (a rule that was changed in 2016 when the DL dropped from 15 days to 10); and increasing the minimum time an optioned player stays in the minor leagues.
The previous change to the disabled list caused teams to place more players on it, in turn rotating the middle relief of their pitching staff along with available players from the minor leagues. Forcing an optioned player to remain longer in the minors, as well as increasing the minimum time a player can spend on the DL, should reduce manipulation of that process.
Baseball’s main question is how much impact any of this would really have. The league and its players want to increase the speed of and action in games. They want to be more relatable to younger generations in order to counter recent attendance slippage. They also want to modernize everything involved within and outside of the game in a pulsating digital society.
Will these proposals do any of that? The Racing Presidents crew isn’t so sure. Take a listen.