We will see a few rule changes in Major League Baseball in 2020. One involves relief pitchers. A pitcher that enters the game must stay in to face three batters or until the end of the inning. There will be a provision for an injury that could keep the pitcher from facing three hitters or getting to the end of the inning.
So will this rule change much about how pitchers are used? Will it speed up the game? Is it even a good move?
This rule certainly will put an end to the one-batter pitchers, a lefty specialist for instance. Perhaps this pitcher has been a dying breed, so to speak, in recent years and next year will not be seen.
The Orioles really didn’t have any mostly one-batter guys last year. We’ve thought of lefty Paul Fry as that at times, but last season 54 percent of the batters he faced were right-handed hitters. And Fry actually did better versus right-handed batters. Lefties hit .250 with a robust .839 OPS versus Fry, who allowed six of his seven homers against lefties. Right-handers hit .244/.679 against him.
So if you’re thinking that Fry could be impacted by this rule, the stat sheet doesn’t back that up.
By the way, of the other four relievers on the team last year that threw the most innings, all faced more right-handed hitters. Not a real surprise, as the Orioles faced right-handed batters on 59 percent of opponent plate appearances in 2019.
Miguel Castro faced righties 64 percent of the time, Shawn Armstrong 63 percent, Mychal Givens 60 and Richard Bleier 56 percent. Of three pitchers who could be key members of next year’s bullpen, Hunter Harvey faced right-handers 62 percent of the time, Dillon Tate 67 percent and Branden Kline 61 percent.
I can’t see this rule change having a major impact on the 2020 Orioles, but maybe it will speed up a few games.
Also, major league rosters expand to 26 next season. This just gives the Orioles another player they can look at. That’s a good thing at a time when they are still somewhat in the “taking inventory” stage. They need to look at a lot of players, and MLB will give them a chance to add one in 2020.
It may be interesting to see how contenders handle the 26th spot. Do they add a defensive specialist, or maybe a speedster who can pinch-run late in the game? Do some teams carry a third catcher?
Rosters in September will be limited to 28 players as of next year. That is down from a max of 40, so the parade of bullpen pitchers used in September games will lessen next season.
But I don’t like this rule for the Orioles. September is a time to take a look at young players. Austin Hays did himself a lot of good in a short time last September. Now the Orioles will only be able to give two young players that September call. I think they went too far here. Why not limit it to 30 or 32 players?
Also next season, the minimum injured-list time for pitchers goes from 10 to 15 days. It will still be a 10-day IL for position players. This should have little impact on the Orioles, but it will keep teams from maneuvering rotations to try to keep pitchers on the 10-day list from missing just one start.
The roster additions: All MLB teams must make any 40-man roster additions today to keep players from potentially being lost to another club in the Rule 5 draft next month.
The Orioles seem likely to protect at least three players and possibly as many as five. Their 40-man roster is at 35 players. Among those that need to be added that seem like slam dunks are infielder Ryan Mountcastle and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. Right-hander Cody Sedlock might be fourth on the list. Dare the O’s take the risk and not add him? Others that could be added include outfielder Ryan McKenna and pitcher Gray Fenter. As always, stand by for potential surprises.
The rosters expanding to 26 could come into play here. Perhaps teams will be more likely to take a Rule 5 player for next season and maybe more teams will make selections next month.
Every year fans who comment here seem certain the Orioles will lose players left unprotected in the Rule 5. And every year lately they don’t.
Keep this math in mind. Every club probably has at least two players they really like that they don’t protect. That is 60 players. Last year just 14 were taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5. That is 23 percent. Even if a player is taken, that player could certainly wind up back with their original team.
By the way, the last player the Orioles lost in the Rule 5 draft was one who never played in a game for the organization at any level. On Nov. 24, 2015, the O’s signed Ji-Man Choi to a minor league contract. A few weeks later - on Dec. 10 - the Los Angeles Angels took him in the Rule 5. Strange. Why didn’t the Angels just offer him more than the O’s and sign him to a minors deal? Choi last year hit .261 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Which players should the O’s protect today?