Posted on February 12, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
With spring training officially getting underway for most teams, Major League Baseball announced several rule changes that will go into effect for the 2020 season. Most of the changes were anticipated because they were previously reported. However, as of Wednesday, the rules changes are now official and will have an impact on the upcoming season.
The most important rule change figures to be the so-called Three Batter Minimum. In line with Commissioner Rob Manfred’s efforts to speed up the game, pitchers who begin an inning or enter in the middle of an inning must face at least three batters before they can be removed from the game. Obviously, there will be an exception made if there’s an injury. Otherwise, a pitcher must face at least three batters or finish an inning to be taken out of the game. The rule change will likely lead to fewer mid-inning pitching changes and will force teams to change how they manipulate their bullpens, likely using fewer specialists who only face one batter at a time.
The other major change that was expected relates to roster configuration. MLB is increasing roster size from 25 to 26 during the season and postseason. There is also a change being made in September. In the past, teams could have up to 40 players on their roster starting September 1. However, rosters will only increase from 26 to 28 players moving forward. The other caveat is that teams can only have a maximum of 13 pitchers on their active roster with that number increasing to 14 in September.
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The only way to get around the 13-pitcher maximum is to designate certain players as “two-way players.” This will help to accommodate players like Shohei Ohtani of the Angels who appear regularly as both a pitcher and an offensive player. Players must pitch at least 20 innings and make 20 starts as a position player with at least three at-bats in those 20 games to qualify as a two-way player. That designation will remain for the rest of the season once a player qualifies.
Meanwhile, there will also be a slight change to how pitchers and position players are treated when they are optioned to the minors or placed on the IL. Position players will still operate using the 10-day IL. They can also be recalled 10 days after being optioned. However, pitchers and two-way players must now spend 15 days on the IL before being activated. They must also wait 15 days before being recalled after they’re optioned to the minors. This is designed to prevent teams from manipulating rosters for minor injuries or getting pitchers extra rest without them missing too much time.
Finally, there is a change in the replay rule. Managers will now have just 20 seconds to request a challenge as opposed to 30 seconds in previous years. This will require quick decisions from managers and could lead to fewer plays being challenged.
Other than the changes about roster size and pitcher limits, the purpose of these rule changes relates to the pace of play and the time of games. Manfred has long attempted to improve pace and shorten games, although he’s done so with little success. The average nine-inning game in 2019 lasted three hours, five minutes, and 35 seconds, setting a new record. With these rule changes, Manfred continues his war on the length of major league games. But whether they will be enough to shorten games in a meaningful way remains to be seen.