Major League Baseball is closing in on completing a unique 2020 season. One that featured 60 regular-season games, 16 teams in the playoffs, but zero fans in the stands.
While everyone hopes the fans return next year, we could also see some rules that we saw for the first time in 2020 returning next year. This could include the extra- innings rule for one. We could also see more than the previous 10 playoff teams next year, although it may not be 16 that make it.
This season, when extra innings began (in the 10th inning or the eighth in a seven-inning doubleheader), we saw a runner placed at second base to start each half-inning. The goal was to more quickly end extra-inning games and no game went longer than 13 innings this season.
“I think the players like it,” commissioner Rob Manfred told The Associated Press for this story this week. “I think it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”
Meanwhile, MLB Players Association head Tony Clark told the AP it was too soon to commit to changes for 2021. The sport’s labor contract runs through 2021, and the union’s agreement is needed to alter the 2021 structure.
“We made a number of one-year changes this season under unique circumstances,” Clark wrote in an email to the AP. “We are gathering feedback from players and we’ll bring that to the league at the appropriate time. Obviously, protecting health and safety will remain among several important considerations as those talks unfold.”
My take is let’s carry some of the new rules forward through the 2021 season. As it is the last year of the current labor contract, keep everything going one more year and then negotiate what they like and will keep and discard what they don’t.
Let’s see some of these changes through hopefully an entire 162-game schedule and not just for 60 games.
I really enjoyed the strategy of placing the runner at second in extra innings. Would teams try to bunt that runner over or play for a bigger inning? Games did end more quickly, as desired, and the rule was fair to both teams. The pressure was on the visiting team to score at least one run or it would put the home team in prime position to win.
But we saw some unique things happen too, like when O’s left fielder Cedric Mullins threw out a runner at third base to produce the first inning-opening double play in major league history. If the placed runner scored, it was unearned to a pitcher’s record, so the player was not hurt in that regard. But MLB was able to avoid those 15- or 16-inning games and we saw some drama and strategy with the new rule. I want to see it again in 2021.
I know I’ll get heavily voted down with this thought, but I also enjoyed the seven-inning doubleheaders. For me, for those circumstances, that is enough time to determine a winner and it allows teams to make up rainouts with less strain on pitching staffs.
I also enjoyed the opening playoff round this year with eight best-of-three series and 16 teams making the postseason. I didn’t think I would like it, but I did for this year.
Before the pandemic, Manfred was in favor of a future expansion of the playoffs to 14 teams.
“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred told the AP. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”
The universal designated hitter worked fine for me. No need to see another pitcher hit ever. National League fans, no doubt, may feel differently.
Change doesn’t have to be bad. In this case, speaking for just one here , it was not.