We are in the middle of a rules change period in Major League Baseball, with some significant new rules being implemented over the course of this and next season (and even more radical rules changes being experimented with in the independent Atlantic League).
Among the rules that kicked in this year: the removal of the waiver trade period in August, reduction in inning break length, reduction in mound visits, and an All-Star Election Day. And there are bigger rules changes still to come in 2020, including an increase in the roster to 26, a reduction in September roster limits from 40 to 28, and longer IL stint and option minimums for pitchers.
But what about a couple of the biggest possible changes that folks wonder about in the near-term: a designated hitter in the National League, and a required minimum number of batters for a pitcher to face?
Well, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to those two issues, confirming that one is likely on the way, while the other is not necessarily.
The current plan for 2020 already includes a new three-batter-minimum rule for pitchers, and Manfred said he is inclined to encourage owners to stick to that plan and implement the rule next year. The goal of the change is to improve the pace that is associated with numerous pitching changes, and also to exclude the possibility of teams starting to open games with a pitcher to face a single batter or something like that.
It’s a controversial change, to be sure, which will dramatically reduce the value of relievers who are solely capable of taking on same-handed batters, and will make it all the more important to be thoughtful on lineup creation and pinch-hitter deployment. It could be good, overall, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.
As for the DH in the NL, however, Manfred did not express anything that would lead you to believe it’s a sure thing at any point, much less soon.
“I do not think that [the DH in the NL] is inevitable. It depends on how the bargaining unfolds and how my politics develop on that one,” Manfred said, noting that the issue is likely to be one for the post-2021 CBA negotiations. “I’m not quite sure where I am on that one …. Hell, it was hard for me to get three-quarters [of the owner votes] to get elected, let alone on the DH. Lest we not forget.”
Manfred was half-kidding with that one, but his point does stand: in order to get the DH implemented, there will have to be significant owner support, which is probably not going to happen unless it’s tied to larger CBA negotiations. In other words, the earliest you could see the DH in the NL, realistically, is 2022.