Major League Baseball has certainly gotten its plaudits for the rule changes for the 2023 season, mostly because it’s sped up the game to well under three hours. Strikeouts and walks are still about where they’ve always been, but more grounders are getting through (strangely from right-handed hitters way more than left-handed hitters, but let’s leave that), and line drives are being rewarded more often. The snappy pace pretty much has pleased all fans (except for some real whackos who somehow think there’s less baseball now even though it still requires 27 outs), and baseball isn’t trending toward cricket.
But as you know with any tinkerer, especially a child that likes to take apart things, the discovery of new things and good results don’t sate the desire. They only increase it, and so MLB is heading back to the Atlantic League to try some new shit. You never stop chasing the dragon.
There are three things MLB wants to look at.
- Reducing the number of pickoffs a pitcher can try before he has to get the runner from two to one.
- A designated runner.
- The “double hook,” which is that a team would lose its DH if the starting pitcher doesn’t complete five innings. Essentially, the DH is hooked to the pitcher.
This being baseball, and MLB specifically, all of these are beating a dead horse or irretrievably stupid.
We’ll take them in order. MLB already got what it wanted, which is more action on the bases — specifically stolen bases. Attempts and successful steals are up a third this year from last, and the success rate is up to 80 percent from 75 last season. The first rule of any negotiation is that when you get the answer you want, hang up. Baseball has more action, runners are braver, and making any single more of an automatic double isn’t really the goal here. Maybe having one or two Rickey Hendersons around the league would be fun, but there’s only one Rickey (for so many reasons). This might tend to make baseball look like it does at recess, where any rule is a suggestion and no runner ever truly stops.
The second, the designated runner, is galactically dumb. Baseball already has pinch runners for clutch situations, but the batter has to exit the game. He’s fully replaced. This rule would allow him to return as well as the runner. Baseball is already specialized enough, thanks to the designated hitter, who still has to do everything on offense at least, and the relief pitcher who throws 60 pitches a week, maybe. A manager’s decision always should come with the weight of losing a pitcher or hitter when replaced, not just getting to make it up as he goes. Hitters are asked to run four times a game. It’s not that big of a deal, and this was only necessary in high school for the catcher because you only had two hours of daylight so he’d better go get his gear on.
The third one is a little more nuanced, but in the end, isn’t the answer to the problem that baseball wants to fix. What MLB clearly wants is to get rid of “the opener,” as well as keep starters in games longer. They’re the bigger stars than relievers, and if baseball’s quest is to get back to the game us olds remember (and it’s debatable whether it should be), then it wants starters around for six or seven innings.
But this isn’t the way to go about it. I used to be on the side of connecting the DH to a specific pitcher, as it felt like it added a new wrinkle of strategy to things, but pitchers leave games early for all sorts of reasons. Should you lose your DH because a pitcher gets hurt? This feels like it puts too much on a pitcher wins, which most fans know isn’t a thing anymore. It’s an anachronism. And if a pitcher doesn’t have it that day and has to be removed after three or four innings, aren’t you making it even harder on his team to get back in the game by removing their DH? Should a pitcher getting shelled really have to eat it for additional innings for this?
One, the opener isn’t in vogue nearly as much as it was. Even the Rays have a traditional starting rotation these days, though that might change with Jeffrey Springs’s injury. And even if it was in vogue, it was a strategy developed organically from the game’s evolution and still involved some pitcher throwing four or five innings eventually. Does it really matter if those are innings 1-6 or 2-7?
Secondly, if MLB really wants to restrict bullpen usage and stretch everyone out, all it has to do is crack down on roster restrictions more than it has. Teams are limited to 13 pitchers now, which is still eight relievers. MLB could easily cut that down to 12 or even 11, and make more relievers go multiple innings and be able to face hitters from both sides of the plate. Again, fewer specialists.
What both of these paths have to deal with is that pitchers just aren’t trained to do that, and one offseason of prep might not be enough. Pitchers don’t throw seven or eight innings in the minors much, if at all. It would take time to get them to that, though it’s hardly impossible. We’ve already eliminated them from hitting in the minors, which is why they shouldn’t be hitting in the majors. If baseball wants more action, losing the DH to get pitchers to do more of what they’re asked to do less than they were just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But once MLB gets a burr in their saddle, we can prepare for all of this to be in an MLB park near you soon.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he tries to will Jesus Lazardo to a quality start for his fantasy team.