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Are the new rules good or bad for the Giants?

And how do they impact the fans?

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Ahhh, baseball. That one sport steeped in tradition, that rarely changes other than a small tweak here and there by people who don’t actually watch the sport but want to flex their authority.

The one sport that’s always there, six to seven nights a week, looking just like it always has. Except this year it’s ... /checks notes ... different? Is that true?

Yes, it is true. After the coronavirus suspended the MLB season for four months, we’re left with a season that is definitely still baseball, but emphatically not as we’ve grown accustomed to it.

The various changes in rules, systems, and play will impact teams in different ways, but they’ll also impact fans in different ways.

I want to look at both of those things. Is each change good, bad, or neutral for the San Francisco Giants? And is each change good, bad, or neutral for the Giants fanbase? Let’s find out.

Universal designated hitter

The designated hitter is universal for 2020, which is considered part of the safety protocol for one reason or another. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Neutral.

In terms of helping the Giants win games in 2020, the designated hitter is emphatically a bad thing. The Giants lack the offensive punch to make them want to expand how many players get to impact a game. In the Giants ideal world, lineups would have three batters instead of nine. They could play Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Evan Longoria against lefties, and then Brandon Belt, Mike Yastrzemski, and Pablo Sandoval or Alex Dickerson against righties. That’d be their best bet.

Last year the Giants had six hitters who got at least 100 plate appearances and hit better than league average, per Fangraphs. The Los Angeles Dodgers had 11. So no, the Giants do not want to add a ninth batter to the equation if they’re trying to win games. They’d much rather subtract.

But. There’s always a but. Usually. Usually there’s always a but. I’m confused; let’s move on.

The Giants are not just playing for 2020, even though they are hoping to make an Even Year BS run at things. The DH gives the Giants more opportunities to play players who might be on the 2022 or 2023 team.

Remember last year, when the Giants acquired Kevin Pillar after five games, and then he proceeded to start 156 of the team’s 157 remaining games? Remember how Steven Duggar didn’t get to start any of those 156 games in center field, because the Giants were so bad and unwatchable that they couldn’t justify taking an only mildly below average bat out of the lineup?

A ninth hitter in the lineup gives the Giants more room to find at-bats for developing prospects while still playing the veterans. That’s good for the long run.

For the fans: Bad.

The designated hitter is morally reprehensible, and I need to take a 30-minute shower just for trying to rationalize why it might have even the tiniest of silver linings.

60-game season

Because Opening Day will be about four months delayed, the season will only be 60 games (assuming they can get through 60 games). Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Good.

This has been covered ad nauseam. Back when an 82-game season was on the table, I looked at nine different 82-game stretches for the 2019 Giants (1-82, 11-92, etc.), and the team had a winning record in seven of those nine stretches.

Baseball relies on the law of averages evening things out over time, and 60 games simply isn’t enough time for that to happen. The Giants chances are emphatically increased with a short season that encourages weirdness. Fangraphs, for instance, gives them a 4.2% chance of making the playoffs, following a 0.7% chance in a normal season.

Every win (or loss) is worth 2.7 wins (or losses), which is a fun and terrifying way of looking at the season. And while that helps their chances of sneaking into the playoffs, it also helps them in a less talked about way: It increases their odds of snagging a high draft pick.

Variance gives the Giants increased odds of dramatically outperforming their record, but also increased odds of dramatically underperforming their record and earning a top five draft pick. If they’re gonna be bad, that’s a good outcome.

For the fans: Bad.

Despite increased playoff odds, the fans are losing 102 Giants games, and that’s bad. Also, there is a legitimate chance that the Giants will be completely out of playoff contention two weeks into the season. Not fun.

Extra innings shenanigans

To keep games short, MLB is going to a rule they recently experimented with at other levels: For extra innings, a runner will automatically start on second base. The person placed on second will be the spot in the lineup that made the last out in the prior inning, but teams can use a pinch-runner. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Good.

The Giants have the fastest player in baseball in Billy Hamilton (assuming he makes the roster). And while it would be nice if Hamilton were even competent with the bat, the one upside of him not being an everyday player is the Giants can keep him on the bench specifically for this situation.

That’s quite literally a game-changer.

For the fans: Bad.

This rule is stupid, and MLB is using the pandemic as an excuse to put it into action so that fans can get used to it so that the league can institute it as an all-the-time rule later.

Extra innings are not bad, and even if they were bad, ties are not bad. This rule is bad and you should feel bad for even reading my words about how it’s bad.

Expanded roster

The 2020 season was already set to see rosters expand to 26 players. Now they’ll start at 30 players, shuffle down to 28 after two weeks, and then wind up at 26 players after two more weeks. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Neutral.

The Giants have limited depth, so, similar to the designated hitter rule, it hurts them from a pure talent standpoint. But we know that Farhan Zaidi likes to churn, and the more spots the Giants have, the more things they can throw at the wall.

For the fans: Good.

More roster spots likely means more prospects for fans to watch.

Player pool

Teams get to submit a 60-player pool that all of their active roster must come from. They can add players to the pool, but can only remove them from the pool by waiving them. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Bad.

Players have to be in a player pool in order to be traded, which means there are simply fewer prospects available, which limits Zaidi and Scott Harris’ options when pursuing trades. It’s worth noting that teams can add prospects to their pool just to trade them (though the Giants would then have to absorb them in their pool). Long story short: The Sam Dyson trade in 2019 likely looks much different in 2020.

For the fans: Neutral.

This doesn’t really impact the fans, other than making it harder for Zaidi to churn quite as much.

Limited opponents

Teams will play 40 games against their division, and 20 games against the corresponding American League division. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Bad.

Very bad, in fact. The Giants have to play 10 games against the Dodgers, and another five against the Houston Astros. That means they’ll spend 25% of their schedule playing against the two teams widely considered the best in baseball.

But it gets even worse! Not only do the Giants play the Dodgers and Astros a combined 15 times, but they also play the Giants — a bad team — zero times! The Astros, meanwhile, play the Dodgers and Astros just five times, while also getting to play the Giants five times. And the Dodgers play the Dodgers and Astros just five times, while also getting to play the Giants ten times!


For the fans: Neutral.

I’d rather see the Giants get to play more than nine teams. I want to watch the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers. But on the other hand, I already feel funky and unsettled about the season happening at all, and limiting travel as much as possible makes the season a little bit easier to swallow.

Starterless baseball

With players having less time to get ready for the season, the expectation is that there won’t be starting pitchers in the traditional sense. We very well may go a whole season without a single complete game, and even the best pitchers will often get pulled after four or five innings. Is that good, bad, or neutral?

For the Giants: Good.

The bullpen doesn’t figure to be great, but it is a relative strength. It’s certainly stronger than the rotation. It’s also deep.

For the fans: Neutral.

Much is lost when you get rid of starting pitchers. The excitement of a no-hitter, the 12-strikeout games, etc. But Giants fans are looking towards the future, and this is a chance to see more players fighting for spots on future Giants teams.

So there you have it. The new season. It’s just like the old season! Except not at all.