Lindbergh: The new MLB rule changes aren’t big—but they could be the start of something huge

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on March 15, 2019, with SABR member John Thorn:

On Thursday, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association jointly announced a series of adjustments to the game that will take effect over the next two seasons, subject to ratification by the 30 clubs and contingent on civilization surviving until 2020. The new measures span several aspects of the sport, from roster size and makeup to pitcher usage to time and pace of game. Taken together—and weighed alongside the more daring experiments MLB is orchestrating in the independent Atlantic League in 2019—the announced alterations represent a real thaw in the change-averse mind-set of a sport that’s been slow to respond to the consequences for spectators of its teams’ tactical innovations. None of these individual initiatives will dramatically reshape baseball, but the full suite of tweaks may collectively curb some of baseball’s least entertaining trends while laying the groundwork for ongoing discussions and more meaningful change.

Perhaps the most momentous of the in-game, on-field changes is the planned implementation in 2020 of a three-batter minimum for non-inning-ending pitcher appearances. In other words, managers will no longer be able to summon a pitcher from the pen and then pull him after one or two plate appearances while the inning is still in progress. This rule revision should put an end to one of baseball’s most boring sequences: the late-inning parade of relievers who enter to take on a righty or lefty and depart immediately after retiring (or failing to retire) their target, subjecting the audience to another managerial mound visit, another commercial break, and another allotment of warm-up pitches.

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Originally published: March 15, 2019. Last Updated: March 15, 2019.