The new rule — which will be phased into spring training games beginning March 12 — also means the days of the LOOGY (which stands for “left-handed, one-out guy”) are effectively over because those matchup specialists frequently will be required to face at least one right-handed batter in their relief stints. Versatile relievers capable of retiring batters from both sides of the plate will carry added value.
There will be two exceptions to the three-batter minimum rule: A pitcher may be removed after facing fewer than three batters if he reached the end of a half-inning, and umpires will have discretion to waive the rule in the event of an injury.
Another timesaving measure for 2020 is a reduction in the amount of time a manager has in which to ask for a replay challenge, from 30 seconds to 20 — another attempt to shave dead time off games.
Manfred had attempted to improve pace of game with some of his earlier rule changes, including the limit on mound visits and the introduction of the automatic intentional walk, but with little success. After some modest improvement in 2018, the average game in 2019 took 3 hours 10 minutes, an all-time high. (The average nine-inning game took 3:05, also an all-time high.)
Most of the other rule changes for 2020 involve roster sizes and management. Chief among them is an increase in roster size from 25 to 26 players, with a maximum of 13 pitchers per team. The 26-man roster will be in effect from Opening Day through Aug. 31 and again in the postseason. From Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season, rosters will expand to 28 players (with 14 pitchers) — a two-player increase from March through August but down from the 40 players teams could carry in September under the old rules.
The 26-man roster, with its limit on the number of pitchers, could devalue multi-positional “super utility” players who had gained prominence as bullpens grew in importance and teams searched for ways to carry more relievers and fewer bench players.
Another rule change for 2020 intends to limit the number of mound appearances from position players, limiting such appearances to extra innings or blowouts in which one team leads by six or more runs.
There will be a special designation made for two-way players, such as the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, but to qualify for the two-way designation they must pitch at least 20 innings and start at least 20 games in the field (or designated hitter), with at least three plate appearances in those games.
Other pitchers who have dabbled as position players, such as Cincinnati’s Michael Lorenzen, will have a more difficult time reaching the plate-appearance threshold for two-way designation; in 2019, he pitched 83⅓ innings as a right-handed reliever but made only six starts in the outfield.
Finally, the injured list will feature different minimum stays for position players and pitchers, with the former group eligible to return to active rosters after 10 days but pitchers (and two-way players) required to stay on the injured list for 15 days before returning.