Three Batter Minimum
Possibly the biggest change this season will be the three batter minimum for all pitchers to face once they enter a game. The only exceptions are if the pitcher entered the game in the middle of an inning, in which case they can finish the inning as a minimum instead, or for injury. This new rule is another attempt to fix “pace of play”, and will likely decrease the usage of specialist relievers, particularly left-handed specialists.
One of the big story-lines for the Braves this off-season was the heavy investment made in the bullpen with the signing of Will Smith, and the re-signings of Chris Martin and Darren O’Day. These signings on top of the substantial money already invested in Mark Melancon and Shane Greene made the Atlanta bullpen take up a big part of the club’s payroll. I think it’s likely that Alex Anthopoulos made these signings with the rule changes in mind. It will be much harder this season to patch together relief innings with specialist pitchers. This will put a premium on not only having a strong bullpen, but having a deep one, and with the off-season additions, the Braves should have one of the deepest bullpens in the league. Will Smith, Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Luke Jackson were all really good last season and will be expected to continue to be reliable arms. Darren O’Day was also really good in a small sample size last season, and has a track record to indicate that this could be real. That’s already six pitchers that the team should feel good about sending out to face three batters. Throw in the potential for Sean Newcomb to be in the bullpen, and this bullpen depth could be a tremendous weapon for Atlanta this season.
There will be a few changes to roster limitations this season. One will be the expansion of active rosters from 25 to 26. One stipulation for this is that the number of pitchers is limited to 13 as the league continues it’s war on relievers. This, probably more by coincidence in this case, will help the Braves by allowing them to keep an extra outfielder, which is a position group that got very crowded after the signing of Marcel Ozuna.
One rule change that the Braves likely don’t like is the shrinking of September active rosters from their previous size of the entire 40 man roster down to only 28. This change will limit the ability of the Braves to use their substantial depth at Gwinnett and will make it harder to give prospects short looks in the majors.
Other roster changes include a mandated designation for two-way players as such, which won’t apply to the Braves, and a restriction on position players pitching to extra innings or 6 run blowouts (sorry, Charlie Culberson). Finally, teams will still be allowed to use one extra player for double-headers, making double-header rosters 27 players, with 14 allowed to be pitchers.
Injury List and demotion time frames
In 2020, the 10-day IL will go away for pitchers and two way players, becoming 15 days, meaning they cannot be reinstated from the IL until 15 days have passed. This will lessen the ability of Alex Anthopoulos to manipulate the IL designation, as he has been known to do frequently in the past. Additionally, pitchers sent down to the minor leagues will now have to spend at least 15 days there as opposed to the past rule of 10. This will similarly lessen the ability of the Braves to be creative and flexible with the active roster. It will be harder to shuttle pitchers between Gwinnett and Atlanta with this rule in place.
Changing the Challenge
In a fairly minor change, the amount of time given for teams to decide to challenge a call has been decreased from 30 seconds to 20. This is unlikely to affect the Braves in any unique way.