BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

CONTROVERSIAL RULE CHANGES IN THE WIND

Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

There are lots and lots of people who simply don’t like change. For one reason or another, many people enjoy the security of the known versus the unknown. For some, change seems unnecessary. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” makes sense in many cases. Some people just wish to avert any risk associated with change.

There are lots and lots of people who simply love change. They want to tinker with the status quo to find a better mousetrap. They not only embrace that new mousetrap, they seek it.

There are lots and lots of people who can live with or without change. They are more ambivalent and go with the flow.

Well, there are lots and lots of people, including me, who feel the game of baseball as we know it now must heed some warning signals. As I have mentioned in many articles on this site and elsewhere, I think the game is headed for trouble with a population that has a great deal of alternatives for their time and money. More alternatives than were available in the past. The explosion of entertainment/technical devices to keep one busy from dusk until dawn is just one factor.

Increased employment and work demands, family time, financial constraints and just the everyday challenges and good fortunes of life are consuming.

It is a fact that many major league baseball teams are experiencing drops in attendance. A total of 17 teams lost attendance year over year from 2017 to 2018. In all, attendance dropped to below 70 million fans for the first time in 15 years. There was an average 4% drop in attendance from 2017.  And yes, there were 13 teams that saw their attendance increase.

Many league and team officials site bad weather, including rain and cold for part of the decline. There were 28 postponements in April alone.

True, weather was an issue and likely contributed to the overall decline. However, there are many factors that must enter the attendance equation. Baseball’s attendance troubles cannot be laid solely with weather.

Baseball must respond to the competitive imbalance it faces. Fans are very reticent to buy a ticket to see a team with little chance for success. Fans are reluctant to buy a ticket to watch a team with few, if any star players.

Fans are weary of buying tickets, paying outrageous parking fees and having to pay outlandish prices for a hot dog, beer, soda, and souvenirs at the ballpark.

And if they care about attendance, baseball better wake up to all the factors above. However, I’m not so sure all teams or management staffs care about attendance. I think all the other revenue streams are of vital importance. Television rights, radio rights, apparel sales, and other factors are of critical importance as the annual sustenance for professional baseball. Attendance is but one component of the hefty revenue produced in the sport.

Fan financial resources are not quite those of team owners or players. In most cases, fan resources for leisure time activities are limited and controlled. At some point, baseball fans may have reached their limit on spending.

Baseball must not only respond to attendance decline, but potential player unrest over a very sluggish free agent market and vast decreases in payroll by at least half of their clubs.

There are some analysts who believe another slow free agent market this year can be attributed to algorithms used by teams that illustrate players are simply not worth the length of contracts or the amount of money players are seeking. There are analysts who believe the metrics are skewed to much more positive performance predictors for players under 30. Many players over the age of 30 are looked upon as risks to be averted.

Clearly, most teams are saying we are no longer paying you for what you have done in the past. It is what you may produce in the future that dictates salary offers. That does make sense. And that is the opposite of what used to take place in baseball. In the past, players were rewarded for past performance with big contracts. Those days appear to be in the rear view mirror.

There are analysts who truly believe that many younger players, like Aaron Nola of the Phillies, who will seek long-term contracts that cover some arbitration years in an effort to maximize their age and abilities now and in the immediate future. They seek their payday now and wish to avoid the risk of being shut out when their arbitration years are over.

It is a fact that many major league baseball teams are looking to populate their rosters with players that are under controllable costs for as long as possible and who have the statistical metrics that justify their salaries. Evaluating data and algorithms and dissecting every conceivable statistic has produced a new profile for 40-man team rosters.

For some baseball executives and fans, games are too long and boring. There are too many strikeouts, there isn’t enough action and the pace of play drags. Fans have better things to do than watch a baseball game that takes three hours and eight minutes.

I don’t hear the same pace of play comments coming from players.

RULES CHANGES

But it is the executives and players that can win the arguments to change some of the rules that have dictated the game of baseball for years.

Baseball executives, under the leadership of Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Players Association members, under the leadership of Tony Clark are in serious discussions regarding rules changes for the game. Some of them may be on a faster track than others. However, the basic agreement between the owners and players doesn’t expire until the 2021 season. That agreement, which I have detailed in previous articles, provides the legal framework for the working rules and standards to be used in the game. The agreement began in 2017.

Some of the changes proposed probably should have been included in the existing agreement. They weren’t, and the parties are discussing rules changes while an existing agreement is in place. However, the basic contract between ownership and players may be changed by mutual agreement during the life of the agreement.

Some fans don’t realize that the baseball Commissioner has the authority to impose any rule or guideline he wishes at any time. His powers include a clause that allows for an action in the “best interest of the game.”  However, to retain harmony in the game of professional baseball, commissioners prefer, properly, to gain agreement from owners and players before implementing rule changes.

PACE OF PLAY RULES

In the tenure of Commissioner Manfred, pace of play has been a priority. He has long discussed means and methods to make the game more compelling, more interesting and more popular by picking up the pace of play. I frankly don’t interpret that to necessarily mean faster. I think it means more action. Move things along. Don’t dawdle.

There are some very practical issues, concerns, problems, inequities and just plain common sense components of the game of baseball that are now getting a clear review and evaluation. Frankly, some of these should have come years ago to my way of thinking.

No. 1-Universal Designated Hitter

On January 11, 1973 the designated hitter was adopted by the American League. Now, serious discussions are taking place between the Major League Player’s Association and Major League Baseball regarding the implementation of the DH in the National League as well. Or maybe just make both leagues play by the same rules by eliminating the DH altogether.

The goal to consolidate the rules of the game is not shared by all fans. In fact, there are many fans who wish to leave things as they are. There are other fans who wish both leagues to play by the same rules. The most popular position is to incorporate the DH in the National League, just as it is used in the American League. But there are plenty of fans who oppose the DH altogether.

Commissioner Manfred has indicated no change in the designated hitter consolidation will take place for the 2019 season. In fact, I believe he is leaning to the conclusion of the current basic agreement before change is implemented, if at all.

The news being made is that discussions regarding a universal designated hitter are seriously taking place. In baseball, that’s progress.

Some say it would be very difficult for National League teams to deploy a DH as soon as this season. I’m not so sure. If the rule were to be changed and National League clubs were permitted to use the extra hitter instead of having the pitcher bat, there are players on every National League club capable of serving in that role.

Here is a list, not totally complete I’m sure, of potential National League designated hitters I have compiled:

ATLANTA BRAVES:

Adam Duvall

Alex Jackson

Ryan LaMarre

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Christian Walker

Yasmany Tomas

Socrates Brito

Jarrod Dyson

Rob Refsnyder

CHICAGO CUBS

Kyle Schwarber

Ian Happ

Daniel Descalso

CINCINNATI REDS

Nick Senzel

Matt Kemp

Yasiel Puig

COLORADO ROCKIES

Mark Reynolds

Ian Desmond

Ryan McMahon

Mike Tauchman

Ramiel Tapia

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Max Muncy

David Freese

Andrew Toles

Paulo Orlando

Ezequiel Carrera

MIAMI MARLINS

Curtis Granderson

Neil Walker

Peter O’Brien

Martin Prado

Pedro Alvarez

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Jedd Gyorko

Jose Martinez

Tyler O’Neill

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Ryan Braun

Eric Thames

Ben Gamel

NEW YORK METS

Todd Frazier

Keon Broxton

Dom Smith

Rajai Davis

Gregor Blanco

Rymer Liriano

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Andrew McCutchen

Roman Quinn

Sean Rodriguez

Aaron Altherr

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Jun Ho Kang

Jose Ozuna

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Wil Myers

Ian Kinsler

Francisco Mejia

Allen Craig

Alex Dickerson

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Pablo Sandoval

Chris Shaw

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Matt Adams

Howie Kendrick

Ryan Zimmerman

No. 2-Pitch Clock

It is possible a 20-second pitch clock could be implemented. It was used in the Arizona Fall League and in minor league games as an experiment, and it produced good results. In general, pitchers don’t like it, but in general, they seem to handle the quickened pace very well. The clock means there is no time to walk around the mound, tug at the sleeves or otherwise dilly dally around before throwing a pitch. The pitcher has 20-seconds to release the ball. The clock would not be in play with a runner on base.  

Of course, the other side of this issue requires the batter to stay in the batter’s box and not walk around wasting time. That one may be tougher to enforce.

No. 3-Extra Innings

To resolve tied games in a quicker manner, it is being proposed by some that a system that was tried with mixed results be implemented. The proposal has extra innings begin with a runner on second base with no outs.

Frankly, I think this gimmick is ridiculous. Some new ideas go too far. This is one. The game had been played for nine innings. Let the game conclude to a natural conclusion based upon the normal rules used for the nine prior innings. And why second base? Why not first or third base? Why not with the bases loaded? I can go on and on with permutations. But they’re all ridiculous.

No. 4-Impose a three-batter minimum for all pitchers

There is talk that one of the rule changes includes requiring every pitcher to face at least three batters. That would virtually eliminate the relief “specialist.” The righty or lefty pitcher that comes in to face one particular batter would be a thing of the past. Any pitcher would have to face a minimum of three hitters before he could be replaced.

This has some true merit. If saving time is the goal, this could speed up the game. It would also require clubs to have a pitching staff capable of facing any hitter, regardless of handedness, at any time.

No. 5-Reduce the number of mound visits

There is some momentum for reducing the number of mound visits by the manager, coach or catcher from the existing six per game to four in 2019 and then to three by 2020. Oh, if only they would do that. Mound visits as well as pitching changes take time. They are time spent without action. I’m not sure there will be much interest in reducing mound visits. And what ever happened to five mound visits? It seems discussions skip right over five and go from six to four or three.

COMPETITIVE BALANCE RULES

No. 6-Move the mound

Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969. It was a drastic change and it vastly improved offensive production. Now there is talk of moving the mound back. Of course, the further back from home plate, the longer a pitcher has to see the ball. I am not a physicist, but I would imagine spin and rotation would be impacted as well. Given the force of the ball off the bat of today’s bigger, stronger, healthier hitters, moving the mound back may make the game safer for the pitcher. However, pitchers are also getting bigger and stronger. But not healthier. Pitcher’s arm, shoulder and elbow injuries are still a problem. I’m not sure we wouldn’t see even more pitcher arm, shoulder and elbow injuries if the mound were to be moved further from the hitter.

I have even heard talk of lowering the mound and/or lowering the mound and moving it back. One or both.

I just don’t see the mound getting any flatter than it is today. And I don’t see any changes being made to the mound. At least not for quite a while.

No. 7- Expand Rosters

One of the rules changes I have personally advocated is an increase in the major league roster from the existing 25 to 27. In my perfect scenario, 25 players would be active each game. Two players would not. In general, the inactive players would be pitchers that have thrown excessive innings the previous game.

In actuality, what is being discussed is an addition of one player to the roster. That would make the major league roster 26 players. The goal is to add an additional bench player, not a pitcher. Some type of exact position player/pitcher equation would likely have to win approval. A team would be permitted to have only X number of hitters and X number of pitchers on a 26-man roster. Unlike my proposal, all 26 players would be eligible each game. And unlike my proposal, the roster increase would be one, not two additional players. The proposal being considered limits the number of pitchers on the roster to 12, with the remaining 14 being position players.

I can live with that and I think it makes sense.

No. 8-Change in September rosters

Currently, major league clubs are free to promote players from their minor league clubs to their major league club beginning September 1st of a given year. The promoted players must be on the team’s 40-man roster to be promoted. In reality, a team could have 40-men on their September roster. Players are granted service time for those September games. That’s a crucial and critical issue, as it is service time that dictates arbitration and free agency eligibility.

Not all teams promote players in September. Some teams have minor league clubs participating in their league playoffs. The parent club may not want to hurt the chances of their minor league teams winning a championship. In addition, some clubs don’t want a player promoted due to service time issues. Or perhaps they are in a pennant race and don’t want younger, inexperienced players changing the team’s dynamic. And some teams just don’t have playing time available to make the promotion viable. Finally, some teams want to avoid the additional cost the player being recalled.

I have heard some talk of changing the existing roster expansions in September. It must be remembered that players are given service time if they are recalled from the minor leagues and placed on the major league roster for September. I would guess the Player’s Association will fight to keep existing rules for that reason.

The discussion revolves around placing a limit of 28 on the roster size for September.

I currently totally disagree with the rule that permits teams to promote 40-man roster players without limitation in September. I believe it changes the dynamic of the previous five months of play. Why should a contender or any team suddenly be allowed to bring in a designated runner capable of stealing bases, or extra pitchers, etc. etc.?

For me, limited September rosters to 28 would be a welcome change.

No. 9-Change Draft Policies

There is some talk that the Players Association would like to reward teams that remain competitive by increasing their draft position or giving them additional draft picks. At the same time, they would like teams that are not competitive to have to pay a price at the draft table. This is designed to keep teams from “tanking” and not retaining a competitive payroll. While I haven’t heard much about this, I think it’s likely a “non-starter” for major league owners and executives.

No. 10-Impose a single trade deadline

In an effort to increase the marketability of free agents, a single trade deadline prior to the All-Star break is being discussed. The logic is that ending in-season trading without obtaining waivers on a player by a July 31 deadline would enhance the offseason activity. That might work. However, many important trades have been made between August 1 and the beginning of the following season. It remains to be seen if major league front office types could function with a limited trade period. I don’t think this idea will fly. However, what might be appealing is ending trading by December 1.  Then free agent players may be the only source of team improvement from that day forward.

No. 11-Change the strike zone

There is some discussion about raising the strike zone. How can major league baseball do that when they don’t uniformly enforce the existing strike zone? If umpires would consistently call balls and strikes as they are intended to be called, it would go a long way to helping improve the game as it now stands. But they don’t call balls and strikes consistently. And I don’t think they can. As it now stands, umpires seem to bring their own strike zone interpretation with them behind the plate. I find it one of the greatest inconsistencies in the game.

CONCLUSIONS

I can’t help think that MLB will introduce the pitch clock this coming season. All the rest of the proposed rule changes will be debated and discussed between now and the time the current basic agreement concludes. But then, I think there will be changes. Some of them have been articulated above.

And of course, what I haven’t discussed in this particular article are revisions to technology use. Will MLB ever use automated home plate umpires? Will instant replay include balls and strikes challenges? Will there be other uses for replay? Technology issues are a discussion for another day.

——————-

For the past several weeks I have been providing fantasy baseball position rankings.

Today I am going to rank Part 1 of 2 outfield rankings.  There are too many outfielders to rank in one list. Consequently, Part II will be listed next week.

FANTASY BASEBALL OUTFIELD RANKINGS:

Mike Trout

Mookie Betts

J D Martinez

Christian Yelich

Bryce Harper

Ronald Acuna

Aaron Judge

Giancarlo Stanton

Juan Soto

Khris Davis

Charlie Blackmon

Andrew Benintendi

Rhys Hoskins

George Springer

Starling Marte

Lorenzo Cain

Marcell Ozuna

Cody Bellinger

Eddie Rosario

Justin Upton

Mitch Haniger

Yasiel Puig

Joey Gallo

Tommy Pham

Aaron Hicks

Michael Brantley

Eloy Jimenez

David Dahl

A J Pollack

Michael Conforto

Nicholas Castellanos

My outfield sleepers for 2019:

Jose Martinez-St. Louis Cardinals

Ramon Laureano-Oakland Athletics

Doug Hall and I talk all things baseball with an emphasis on fantasy baseball every week on our Short Hops podcast. You can find us at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and right here at ClubhouseCorner.com

Listen to me every Monday morning at 11:38AM Eastern Time at Sirius/XM radio 87. I appear with Jeff and Liss of Rotowire Fantasy Sports every Monday on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Radio.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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