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How bonkers are each of the proposed MLB rule changes?

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We all hate rule changes... except sportswriters during off seasons where no teams are signing free agents.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants
You won’t be seeing much of this anymore...Madison Bumgarner swinging the bat...if the suggested new rules happen.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that baseball fans can agree on, it’s that the Miami Marlins are a laughingstock. But if there’s a second thing, it’s that Rob Manfred likes to take something that’s mostly working, open it up, and see what kinds of things he can tinker with, break, fix, fix without breaking, and explode before his mother tells him to stop making the basement smell like electrical smoke. And he’s at it again.

Well, maybe not just him, but with baseball finally finding something that goes at a slower pace than the average baseball game (Hint: it’s free agency. It’s slow as heck.), MLB and the Players’ Union are apparently throwing suggestions at each other to change baseball. Not that most of these things would fix the free agency problem that will give us a strike in a few years, but hey, why not?

To help us out, let’s take a level-headed, completely unbiased look at them. And then we’ll rate them by how bonkers they really are. And by bonkers, I mean Bonkers, as in Disney’s Bonkers D. Bobcat —

Universal Designated Hitter

Yeah, let’s just start here.

I love the difference between the leagues. I think it’s great! I love players who are multi-talented and can handle all parts of the game! I think that it adds opportunity for strategy, and importantly the Twitter alerts that even the muddiest of stick-in-the-mud journalists send out to warn us that “RELIEF PITCHER BATTING” is happening.

On the other hand, I can see the writing on the wall.

Who It Helps: Really good hitters who can’t field, or who have gotten old. Fans who can’t differentiate “Low-Scoring” from “Nothing Happening”. Pitchers from Baseball’s past who don’t want their ERA records to be broken.

Who it Hurts: Pitchers who use a pitcher’s spot to relax. Fringe bench players who relied on pinch-hitting regularly to be useful. Bench players whose only tool is speed and need pinch-running opportunities. Madison Bumgarner’s dirtbike, which he will undoubtedly take his frustrations out on. Whoever’s job it is to put up retired numbers at AT&T Oracle Park, because they’ll need to bring down Bonds’ retired number as he comes back to DH and hits better than Bryce Harper.

Rating: I’m going to hate it, but we all know it’s going to happen sooner or later. *sigh*. It’s stupid, but it’s not that Bonkers. 2 out of 5 Bonkers

A Single Trade Deadline Before The All-Star Break

True Story: I once interviewed at EA Sports to be a Sports Game Manual Writer, and at the final interview, one of the questions was to explain the August Waiver Trade Deadline. One of the others was to explain the NHL’s Icing rule. The latter has been simplified since that interview. Now it’s time to fix the trade deadline.

So this is obvious, right? Of course baseball should have one trade deadline. Put it at the end of August, or maybe August 15, but one trade deadline makes sen—

*Re-reads proposal*

BEFORE THE ALL-STAR BREAK? Ah, there’s the facepalm that occurs every time I see a Rob Manfred proposal...

Who It Helps: Good players on bad teams and minor leaguers on good teams who don’t like being the subject of trade rumors for 4 months.

Who It Hurts: Sportswriters and bloggers who fill their July schedule with Trade Rumor articles. Sportswriters who fill their August schedule with articles explaining the August Trade Deadline. Teams trying to delay the decision to tank or go for it as long as possible.

Rating: Fixing the Trade Deadline makes sense. Making it before the All-Star Break doesn’t.

Simplify The Trade Deadline: 0 out of 5 Bonkers

Move The Trade Deadline to before Mid-July: 5 out of 5 Bonkers

3-Batter Minimum For Pitchers

That’s three batters in one inning; a relief pitcher can be replaced only at an inning break OR facing three batters, whichever comes first. The obvious exception regarding injury also exists. There’s been some confusion about this rule change because of that.

I think a third thing that all baseball fans can agree on is that pitching changes are the most boring time in a ballgame. Making this a rule would eliminate more of those breaks. That’s good, right? And this doesn’t have to make pitching worse... it simply demands pitchers be better.

Who It Helps: TV viewers who are bored easily. Fans at the game who can’t change the channel. Teams playing against a Bruce Bochy-managed squad.

Who It Hurts: The Javier Lopezes of the baseball world. Speedee Oil Change, who might not have anything to sponsor. Broadcast networks who sell ad time for pitching changes — oh crap. This isn’t going to happen, is it?

Rating: This totally makes sense. 1 out of 5 Bonkers

A Study to lower and/or move back the Mound

Mounds and their heights have fluctuated throughout baseball history. Did you know that before 1950, there was no minimum mound height, just a maximum (which was 15”)? In 1950, mounds were standardized at 15”, and then in 1969, they were lowered to 10”. That’s where we are today.

I mostly point this out for fans who keep saying that baseball has been the same game with a level playing field throughout its history — it literally has not.

But seriously, we’re just going to lower the mound again because pitchers are good? The mound was the same height for great run-scoring eras as it was for these pitching-dominated eras. And the distance between home plate and the mound has been 60 feet, 6 inches since 1893! Address the things that caused those fluctuations first.

Who This Helps: Hitters. Punctuation makers who need more than just asterisks to make records of different eras to stand out. Sean Hjelle. Outfielders who hate running.

Who This Hurts: Pitchers. People who like double plays.

Rating: This is overkill. 4 out of 5 Bonkers

Expanding Rosters to 26 Players with a 12-Pitcher Maximum

This sure seems like an easy way to placate the MLBPA — here’s 30 new jobs. But what happens if this one comes to pass along with the universal DH? Suddenly, there’s far less need for pinch runners and pinch hitters.

So, how would this extra player help teams? One extra guy won’t add to more platoons or a significant number of more off days to help hitters rest. So, what, other than adding one more player who will likely just be making the league minimum? I honestly don’t know.

Who This Helps: Veterans needing roster spots. AAAA players who can’t get over the line into the Majors and might be helped by the line moving. Union leadership hoping they can say to membership that they “created 30 jobs” and “slowed disabled list abuse”.

Who This Hurts: Video game designers who now need to rank 30 more players who play so rarely that it’s impossible to say if they have a 44 hit tool or a 45 hit tool.

Rating: This barely even fixes problems that don’t exist, much less the ones that do. But it’s fairly harmless and it’s $555K out of someone else’s pocket. Eh. 3 out of 5 Bonkers.

20-Second Pitch Clock

Another one to upset the pitchers. Great.

A pitch clock would potentially speed up the pace of any given game, although the number of pitchers who take longer than 20 seconds to pitch (when there are no runners on base) is small. And since the pitch clock won’t count when runners are on base, the effect of this would be very limited.

That said, the idea of adding a clock for anything to baseball is sure to piss off not just the pitchers, but all the traditionalists. And while the league may continue to push for this, and it’ll happen eventually, this might be the sacrificial suggestion that gets shot down just to give the player’s union a ‘win’.

Who This Helps: Fans, I suppose. Companies that build digital timers. TV networks.

Who This Hurts: Some pitchers. Traditionalists’ feelings. The TV production crew who would have less time to put together graphics.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Bonkers, just for pissing people off.

Draft Advantages for Winning Teams, Penalties for Losing Teams

It’s hard to judge without knowing what these draft advantages/penalties would be, but ultimately you’re taking one of the most important player acquisition tools for teams, and one of the most under-appreciated by fans, and making it more complicated than the NBA’s salary structure. Because what baseball fans really want is to take a simple game and make it even more complicated by math few understand than it’s gotten in the last 10 years.

Baseball has already tied the draft to competitiveness by subjecting major league payrolls to a competitive balance tax that affects teams ability to use their money to sign amateur players. The MLBPA is countering with a “tank tax” that punishes teams choosing to tank year after year.

Who This Helps: The fans and some free agents who might get decent deals from teams that otherwise wouldn’t sign a free agent.

Who This Hurts: Fans who want to have a basic understanding of the business of baseball without degrees in Mathematics, Business, Psychology, and Philosophy. Teams that say they’re “tanking” in order to rebuild when they’re really just pocketing revenue sharing and TV money.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Bonkers

A Kyler Murray Rule

This one would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts.

The A’s took a risk in the MLB draft in 2018. A lot of baseball writers loved it. Then Kyler Murray won the Heisman award, his agent scoffed at the A’s and Baseball, and Murray has all but formally moved on to football.

For some reason, either MLB or the MLBPA seems to think that the problem here is that Murray wasn’t going to get enough money right away from baseball (and they’re not entirely wrong), and the fix to this problem is to allow more money to be signed out of the draft (eh....) by giving these guys major league contracts (they’re completely wrong).

This rule does not fix a major problem, and it does not even fix the problem it supposedly would fix. These days, most athletes pick the sport they want to pursue in or by high school. They wouldn’t be two-sport amateurs by draft day, so they wouldn’t be covered.

You want baseball to get more young athletes to choose it? Make that argument better. Start with the letters CTE, and then finish by paying minor leaguers what they’re worth... which isn’t multi-million dollar salaries, but it sure isn’t sub-minimum wage, either.

Who This Helps: ?????

Who This Hurts: Anyone good enough to be ‘helped’ by this new rule.

Rating: 10 out of 5 Bonkers WTF are these people thinking?