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How new rules for the 2020 season could impact the Braves

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Four new MLB rules will be implemented in 2020 and could have a significant impact on the Braves.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Another season, another batch of new rules. Major League Baseball will be implementing four new rules for the 2020 season. While recent rule changes have affected anything from All-Star voting to pace of play, most of the new rules for 2020 focus on roster management, with the one exception being the three-batter minimum rule. Here are the new rules for 2020 and how they will affect the Braves:

Rule No. 1: The active roster will be increased from 25 to 26 players until August 31. Starting in September, when rosters traditionally expand, the active roster will be 28 players, which is down from having the entire 40-man roster.

This rule is very straight-forward. For a majority of the season, each team will be allowed to carry 26 players (and a minimum of 25) on its active roster. For double-headers, teams will still be allowed to add one player, raising the active roster to 27. Depending on how teams balanced their active roster with pitchers and position players, this new rule will allow them to add either another arm in the bullpen or another bench player. Many teams effectively used the 10-day IL as a means of adding another pitcher, but MLB will look to change that, as well (see below).

For the Braves, this rule would essentially allow them to carry another bench player, as the Braves normally carried 13 pitchers and 12 position players in 2019.

Rule No. 2: A pitcher must face at least three batters or pitch to the end of the half-inning. However, there is an exception if the pitcher is unable to continue due to illness or injury.

This rule, also known as the LOOGY exterminator, is directly related to MLB’s focus on improving pace of play. For many years, teams have employed a LOOGY (or Lefty One Out Guy) to come out of the bullpen to face left-handed hitters. However, the LOOGY reliever is often removed from the game once they encounter a right-handed hitter in the lineup. (To be sure, there can be right-handed specialist relievers, too, but because there are far more right-handed batters – 59% of at bats were by right-handed hitters in 2019 - they are used as specialists less than their left-handed counterparts.) MLB wants to eliminate this practice because more pitching substitutions make for more down-time and longer games.

To examine what type of impact this rule might have for teams, and particularly the Braves, we can examine the case of the Braves’ LOOGY from 2019, Jerry Blevins. Certainly, not every manager uses a LOOGY the same as Brian Snitker, and Blevins is no longer under contract with the Braves. However, Blevins’ use in 2019 can provide a snapshot of how significant this rule change might be:

  • Blevins faced more right-handed hitters (72) than left-handed hitters (69) in 2019, though the same can be said for his 2014 and 2018 seasons.
  • Blevins faced at least three batters in 27 of his 45 appearances. However, he ended the half-inning in 18 of the 28 appearances in which he paced less than three batters.
  • Therefore, in 10 of his 45 appearances (22%) in 2019, Blevins faced less than three batters and did not end the half-inning, which will no longer be permitted under the new rule.

The new rule would seemingly reduce the value of LOOGY’s and matchup specialists, at a minimum. They will likely have to face right-handed hitters more than they’ve had to in the past, meaning they will need to be somewhat effective against righties to justify a roster spot.

For the Braves, it is yet to be seen what effect this will have. Blevins is a free agent now, and with the many additions to bullpen already this offseason, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll carry a matchup specialist or LOOGY. In fact, the reliever that the Braves have signed this offseason (Darren O’Day, Will Smith, and Chris Martin) might have been signed with this new rule in mind. Each of these relievers have proven effective against batters from either side of the plate. While O’Day has been dominant against righties, he has held lefties to a respectable .304 wOBA and .714 OPS over his career. Interestingly, of the three new relievers, Martin has the worst splits, but they are reverse. Against right-handed hitters, Martin has allowed a .333 wOBA and a .780 OPS over his career.

The new rule, however, will apply to all pitchers, not just specialists. Therefore, Brian Snitker, like all managers next season, will have to contemplate how a reliever matches up against the next three batters rather than just the next one or two before bringing him into the game.

Rule No. 3: There will be a limit on the total number of pitchers allowed on the active roster – probably 13, but nothing is official yet. Accordingly, teams must designate each player as a pitcher, position player, or two-way player. To qualify as a two-way player, that player must have a record of one season with at least 20 innings pitched and 20 games started with at least three at-bats as a position player or designated hitter. Additionally, those deemed “position players” will not be allowed to pitch unless there is a run differential of at least seven runs or the game is in extra innings.

There is a lot to unpack here. The main thrust of the rule is that there will be a limit on pitchers allowed on the active roster. To enforce that rule, teams must designate what type of player each player on their roster is.

The two-way player rule is likely to have little effect on the game. There are only a couple players, namely Shohei Ohtani and Michael Lorenzen, who come close to qualifying. But there would be nothing preventing them from being designated as pitchers and playing another position in the field. The “two-way player” designation would only come in handy if their team wishes to have 13 pitchers in addition to the two-way player.

For the Braves, the two-way player rule would likewise have little effect. Charlie Culberson has pitched three innings over the past two seasons, including two innings with a 0.00 ERA in 2019, I might add. But he would not come close to qualifying as a two-way player. However, he will be limited now to appearing as a pitcher only when the run differential is at least seven or the game is in extra innings.

Additionally, the Braves normally carried 13 pitchers on their active roster in 2019, so they can continue to do so. The extra roster spot added would therefore need to go to a position player.

Rule No. 4: The minimum amount of time that a pitcher can be on the Injured List will increase from 10 days to 15 days. (For position players, the minimum time will remain 10 days.)

This new rule is clearly aimed at preventing teams from placing a pitcher on IL with a phantom injury or for rest. Under the old 10-day rule, a starting pitcher would only have to miss one start, but now the pitcher would miss two starts, requiring front offices to think long and hard before placing a starter on IL.

For the Braves, this rule could be significant. It will likely mean that the Gwinnett Shuttle is used far less and that the Braves’ young pitchers like Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, and Ian Anderson get fewer opportunities to start games. While almost every team took advantage of the 10-day IL for pitchers, the Braves might be impacted more, as they have a great deal of young pitchers knocking on the door to the big leagues.

This new rule seems very misguided, in my opinion. It seems that it will give starting pitchers less rest throughout the season and could lead to more injuries – not just due to lack of rest but due to trying to pitch through minor injuries. With the additional reduction of September roster expansion noted above, pitchers might get less rest in September than in the past. Do we really want to see more pitchers gassed or injured by the time the playoffs come?

To be fair, there will be an extra roster spot, but with the cap on number of pitchers that can be on the active roster, that rule does little to assuage the problem. Many teams, including the Braves, already carried 13 pitchers and would not be allowed to carry more in an effort to reduce wear on their starters.

Moreover, every team was equally able to take advantage of this rule by giving their pitchers more rest throughout the season. If teams were smart, they would make sure that they had solid rotation depth when assembling their rosters. So what is the problem for which this rule is the solution?

Poll

Which new rule do you like the most?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Active roster increase to 26
    (969 votes)
  • 43%
    Three batter minimum
    (853 votes)
  • 1%
    Designating pitchers and position players
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    15-day IL for pitchers
    (99 votes)
1941 votes total Vote Now