Although all of baseball’s attention is still firmly focused on the 2016 Postseason – which got off to a bang last night – I suspect that this going to be one loud, busy offseason.
Specifically, (even without the benefit of an exciting free agent class) the expected and impending changes to the game are going to be front and center for everyone to dissect and debate – something which will not likely be met with a ton of consensus.
Guiding that conversation and those changes, is MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Recently, Manfred dove into some of the biggest issues with reporters. You can read some of his comments at the Associated Press, and the others at ESPN. In addition, MLBTR has a nice rundown here.
- Obviously, one of the most oft-discussed issues facing MLB is pace of play. It’s something baseball has tried to address in years past, but nothing has really seemed to stick. Some of the most commonly suggested changes include pitch clocks, pitcher limits and the like, but Manfred recently touched on a relatively new angle to the problem: expanded rosters in September. Several managers have expressed their concern that the expanded rosters in September are one of the primary drivers for excessive reliever usage and thus lower rates of play and longer game times. Of course, limiting the number of relief changes (or the raising the number of minimum batters faced) can address this issue, but the idea of limiting the roster expansion is at least worth discussing. For what it’s worth, Manfred suggested that he’s interested in making September baseball “closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year.” One idea would be expanded rosters, but only a certain number of players available each day.
- On the idea of expanding MLB, Manfred has held his ground: until Oakland and Tampa Bay resolve their stadium/location questions, nothing will be decided. That said, once those issues are resolved, Manfred concedes that 32 teams (in terms of scheduling) “is a nice number for us.”
- Manfred is aware that many have called for an award in honor of the late Jose Fernandez, but suggests that it’s not the right time of the year to be thinking about it. He recognizes the significance of Fernandez and understands that there are very strong feelings on this topic, but won’t talk about it until the offseason. I’m sorry to say, the creation of a new award doesn’t look promising.
- As you may or may not know, the 2016 season has been a historic one in terms of the number of total number home runs hit around the league (second most in MLB history). There have been several theories to explain the spike (including structural differences in 2016 baseballs), but Manfred and MLB does not think there have been any particularly convincing external causes. “We are absolutely convinced this issue is not driven by a difference in the baseball,” he said. “My own view is the spike is related to the way the game is being played now, the way we are training hitters from a very young age. We have not been able to find any external cause that explains the spike in home runs.” Frankly, I don’t know what’s caused the home run spike, but I am not 100% positive that the way we are training hitters from a very young age explanation decided to rear its head immediately and solely in this one particular season.
- Lastly, on the unpopular one-game Wild Card round, Manfred has one again held his ground: “We just had a final day of the season where you had all sorts of meaningful baseball games, and most of those meaningful games were related to the fact that we had a second wild card,” he said. “In terms of the games themselves, I understand that baseball doesn’t usually have one-game knockouts, but I do believe these two games get our playoff season off to a really exciting start.” To his credit, Manfred went on to explain that the unpredictable one-game playoff helps to ensure that teams play to win the division (in other words, play hard until the very end), which is sort of true, except the fact that divisional winners often clinch early anyway (this year, for one example). There’s no version of a short series that can appropriately evaluate which of two teams is better, but it certainly has to be greater than one. [Brett: That said, I think we would all agree that the one-gamers certainly have been fairly exciting.]