MLB Announces Rules Experiments in Atlantic League, Including “Designated Pinch-Runner”
I’ll keep the preamble short and sweet to ensure that you read it and take it to heart: the whole point of MLB’s relationship with the independent Atlantic League is to experiment and study. They are SUPPOSED to try out some things, many of which will never make it to the affiliated minor leagues, much less MLB. So take it easy on any big reactions. Yet.
OK, so yes, MLB has announced new rules experiments for the Atlantic League, and at least one is extremely eye-catching:
- The designated pinch-runner: Each club will list a player who is not otherwise in the starting lineup as a designated pinch-runner. That player may then be substituted at any point into the game as a baserunner. The player who is substituted for, as well as the pinch-runner, may then return to the game without penalty.
- Single disengagement limit: In conjunction with the introduction of the pitch timer, the new MLB rules restrict pitchers to two so-called disengagements (stepping off the mound or pickoff attempts) per plate appearance without penalty. On a third disengagement, the pitcher is charged with a balk, unless an out is recorded. The reason for this limit is that these disengagements reset the timer, so the limit prevents pitchers from abusing the system. The related effect is that baserunners can take more daring leads on the basepaths.
- The “Double-Hook” designated hitter: Though revolutionary in general, this rule is old hat to the Atlantic League, which has used some form of it since 2021. Once again this year, ALPB clubs may use the DH as long as the starting pitcher completes at least five innings. If the starter fails to make it through the fifth, the club then loses the DH for the remainder of the game and must either have its pitcher hit or use pinch-hitters when that spot in the lineup comes up.
A designated pinch-runner. Wow. It’s the kind of thing people half joke about, but now MLB wants to see how it would actually work. A pure speed guy, who can come into the game and run for ANY other guy, AND BOTH can still stay in the game. So it’s very much like a designated hitter – you’re just The Runner Guy for this game.
On first blush, I don’t love it. Although I understand the purpose – add more speed and athleticism to the game, especially on the basepaths, which can be some of the most exciting stuff – it definitely feels more gimmicky than most other rules changes. I’d probably have to be sold on that one.
The second experiment is pretty straightforward, and it’s basically limiting pitchers to just one pick-off attempt before they get into “it has to be an out or else it’s a balk” mode. The rule is two free disengagements right now in MLB, so I suppose I’d be curious about what happens if you drop that to just one.
And lastly, the double-hook rule, which I’ve always liked (in theory). It ties your starting pitcher to your designated hitter in a more meaningful way, and if you lose the starting pitcher early, you also lose the DH. It conjures to mind a whole lot of strategic thinking about how and when to pull the starter, while also making deeper benches all the more meaningful again.