New Rules for 2020

There are a number of new rules taking effect this season.  Let’s take a look.

The 25 man roster is no more.  It’s now a 26 man active roster.  The MLBPA of course loved this idea—30 more major league salaries.  There’s a cap on how many pitchers a team can have: 13. Up through last year, teams could have 26 players for double headers.  That will now be 27. My favorite part, honestly, is the first ever limit on how many pitchers a team can have.  13 pitchers was already common last year, and I had visions of 14 pitchers on a staff with even more pitching changes.

September call ups can no longer include the entire 40 man roster.  It will be limited to 28 players, with no more than 14 pitchers.  Few teams came anywhere near the 40 man limit anyway.

There is an exception to the number of pitchers a team can have, but it’s one that won’t be used that much—two way players don’t count against the pitcher limit.  There is, however, now a rule about who counts as a two way player too.  The player has to, in the previous season, pitch at least 20 innings and play as a position player in at least 20 games with 3 AB each.
The Shohei Ohtani exception to the 2 way player exception: The rule I just summarized would mean nobody currently in MLB, even Shohei Ohtani, would count as a two way player since he didn’t pitch in 2019 due to TJ surgery.  Well, MLB has stated that for this, the first year of the new rule only, qualifying as a two way player in 2018 also counts.  The Angels thus can have 13 pitchers, plus Ohtani.
So how will future possible two way players be able to count as one?  Based on the rule, they’d need to count as a pitcher their first year.  There is no rule that says a pitcher can’t play in the field. It wouldn’t work the other way around because…

Position players are now not allowed to pitch unless one team is up by seven or more runs or the game has gone to extra innings. That should adequately obviate temptation to hide a pitcher on a roster as a “utility player” who sits on the bench except to pitch.

The anti-LOOGY rule:  Pitchers must now face at least three batters, or finish the inning.  A manager can still run a guy out to the mound with two outs, but if he fails to get his guy out, then he can’t be pulled right away. In the last three years, there have been 650-720 pitching changes each season that will no longer be allowed.  It may not seem like a once-every-3-games occurrence will really affect pace of play much, but: baby steps.

The anti-Rays bullpenning rules: 15 days in the minors minimum for players sent down, and pitchers’ IL is 15 days, not 10 like the position players.  I kid when I say the rule is specifically aimed at the Rays, but it will curtail one thing they made a real habit of the past two years—frequent shuttling of relievers back and forth between AAA Durham and St Pete.  They were virtually forced to in 2018–they had so many starting pitcher injuries that they couldn’t field a full adequate rotation of starters and even had multiple starter injuries at AAA.  Thus they went to bullpenning out of necessity.  Bullpenning is not going away, but the new rule will slow the major league/minor league revolving door. Also, bullpenning isn’t really a pace of play rule as, when it’s working, the pitcher changes are between innings—an opener for the first two, the planned pitcher of record for 3-4, and one per inning thereafter. The 15 day IL will keep teams from “hiding” a pitcher with a minor ailment as much as it will keep said pitcher out at least three turns through a rotation instead of just two.

Overall, I like the new rules although any real affect on pace of play remains to be seen.

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