By: Noah Wright
If you’ve been following anything baseball related recently, you already know that Manfred is imposing a universal DH rule (DH In both AL and NL), and make pitchers, both relief and starters, to face a minimum of 3 batters. On paper, these changes don’t look to big. However if you delve deeper into the strategic aspect that it impacts, it clearly becomes a very short sighted change.
First, let’s take a look at the universal DH rule. Now we all know pitchers hit in the NL. However, with pitchers hitting in the NL, it comes with strategy that managers must master. For example, let’s say that the Dodgers are winning 2-0 in the bottom of the 7th against the Atlanta Braves. There’s a runner on second with two outs, and Rich Hill, who’s been magnificent throughout the entire game is stepping up to the plate. Now clearly, a 2 run lead and a 3 run lead against a team as good as the Braves can make a huge difference. Dave Roberts at this point could go to one of two options: leave in a steamrolling Rich Hill who’s been great all game, or bring in, let’s just say David Freese to pinch hit to try and drive that runner in, who has been a good bench bat in clutch situations this season and in the past. A move to a universal DH completely eliminates situations like this. Clutch hitters who can come in off the bench are now very much devalued because of it. It’s also short sighted because Manfred has expressed interest in implementing it into the game as soon as next year. This move at the end of the off season would come as a huge shock to teams. Some are way more prepared for the move than others. For example, the Rockies’ best DH option right now would be a combination of Daniel Murphy and Ryan McMahon, where as the Cubs would have Kyle Schwarber. Plus with the universal DH, we will see more guys like Joey Gallo who strike out at or over 45% of the time, and hit a home run every now and then. But the true reason I really hate the universal DH rule is 2-way players will be less effective. Let’s say it’s the 6th inning. You’re not really ready to start putting in your set-up and closing pitchers. But your pitcher is coming up next inning, and he was rolling along, but not without some bumps along the way. In the future, a lot of teams may just opt to put in their 2 way player off the bench. This happened a lot of times with Michael Lorenzen last season. He would come in to pinch hit for the pitcher, and then come into throw an inning the next half inning. Not only does it save a bench spot, but it also saves a bullpen spot. In the future, we may see more guys who can hit and pitch, but taking away the DH also takes away a lot of the times the pitcher could come in, hit for the starter, and then come into pitch an inning or two. 2-Way players is definitely in the future of baseball, and if Rob Manfred doesn’t see it, then he is only thinking of the present.
The next rule Manfred wants to implement is the three batter minimum. Now obviously, this would not affect starters at all. But this will hurt the bullpen, and likely cause direct changes to the outcome of a game. Let me give you another scenario. The Pirates are winning 3-1 in the bottom of the 8th. They’ve let Trevor Williams start the 8th inning, as he’s been great all game long. Though Williams get the first out in the inning, he walks Joey Votto who came up second. The Bucs decide that he’s getting tired out there, and it’s time for him to leave the game. They pull Williams and insert set-up man Kyle Crick. Crick comes in to face faces Eugenio Suarez, and gives up an RBI double to the third baseman. Now Scooter Gennett steps to the plate with 1 out, a runner on second, and in a very favorable situation (.301/.343/.481 career line vs RHP’s). But now the Pirates are stuck in this very bad situation. Sure, they probably do want to put in lhp closer Felipe Vazquez, who held LHB to just a .454 OPS in 2018, but they can’t since Crick is forced to face Gennett. If this 3 batter minimum rule is put into place, there will absolutely be situations like this in the MLB. Not only will situations like this pop up, but it will almost completely eliminate lefty specialist pitchers. That’s guys like the now retired Randy Choate, Zach Duke, and Andrew Chafin. Plus it just takes out another aspect of strategy out of this game.
The only reasons Manfred has to make these changes is that it speeds up the game, and adds more action. The DH means more big power hitters and more action. The 3 batter limit reduces the amount of pitcher changes, which means less downtime in the game. However, these moves contradict each other, and the 3 batter minimum indirectly contradicts itself. The more action there is in the game, the longer each inning is. What’s faster: 5 guys coming to bat in a row, 3 score, and then the 5th batter hits a home run with only having 1 or zero outs, or Corey Knebel striking out the first 2 batters of the inning, and then having Josh Hader coming in to get the last out? The 3 batter minimum also indirectly adds more action as there will be more situations of unfavorable matchups, causing more hits, and longer innings. Go ahead Manfred, try it in the minors. It worked great last year when you were testing new rules to keep attendance around/bring in a younger audience right? A 1.3 million decrease in attendance between 2017-2018 isn’t that much, right? Sure you could blame that on multiple things, but it’s pretty clear that the rules you are implementing aren’t bringing in more fans, or helping attendance stay up. Nobody has ever said “Yea, I can watch baseball now that they knocked off 10 minutes”. So Rob Manfred, if you are reading this, think about who this is truly helping (ie the casual fans) and truly hurting (ie the true, harcore fans), because I think I can speak for most true, hardcore fans of this sport when I say we don’t want these big rule changes.