He broke down his critiques — and suggestions that were not implemented — during a 22-minute interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday.
“I want to communicate to the fans, to people who love this game, that players have identified what we want,” Scherzer said. “We still think there is a lot of room to grow.”
First, with the three-batter minimum, Scherzer is worried about clubs gaming the system with dubious injuries. He believes the rule is incomplete and should not have been implemented until there was a clear way to keep teams from sidestepping it. The rule requires relievers, barring injury or illness, to face a minimum of three batters upon entering and is part of an ongoing effort to improve pace of play. Even if he hasn’t faced the minimum of three batters, a reliever is allowed to exit after finishing an inning, and he can use intentional walks to avoid bad matchups.
But Scherzer can see a troubling scenario unfolding: A team is in a big game, in a big spot, and wants to yank a reliever after a batter or two. Right now, as the rule is written, there is nothing stopping that pitcher from grabbing his arm or his back and leaving the field flanked by trainers. The team could say it was precautionary, and that pitcher could then appear in the next game. Scherzer used the example of a reliever pitching in three consecutive contests and only having enough in the tank to face two batters or throw 10 pitches. MLB has left the umpires to deal with that issue, and Scherzer knows how that will go.
"It’s very plausible that, when it’s convenient, somebody just could come up lame because the umpires are always going to side on player health, and they have to,” Scherzer said. “If they were to force a guy to pitch injured, now that screams lawsuit, right? It won’t happen. We’re going to be talking about this over and over again.”
He repeated that he understands the intent of the rule but wishes it had been tabled until this issue was addressed. He does not want the three-batter minimum to overshadow games but imagines it very well could.
“When you consider talking about games in September and October, when some of these matchups can really swing a game, do we really want that for the fans?” Scherzer asked. “Do the fans really want to be told we have three-batter minimums, but a guy comes up lame and now the game is altered? The rule is just not ready yet.”
Second, with the lengthened IL stints, Scherzer feels the goal will not be met. MLB upped minimum IL trips from 10 to 15 days in an attempt to curtail roster manipulation. There are many ways this happens, but this was the example Scherzer cited: A pitcher goes on the IL, then the team cycles players through that spot every few days to keep arms fresh.
With the current rules, a player who is optioned to the minor leagues has to wait 15 days before he can come back to the majors. Yet the exception is that a player can come back up immediately if he replaces a player who went on the IL. That can turn a roster spot into a revolving door. There is nothing that would keep a team from concocting an injury to rotate players, usually pitchers, through a roster spot. But MLB thought a 15-day minimum stint — and the chance injured players must miss five more days — could be a deterrent.
Scherzer contends that roster manipulation will continue without a hitch. The solution he proposed is what he calls a “one-to-one swap.” In this concept, there would be a reason not to use IL stints for roster manipulation. If a player went to the IL and the player who replaced him was on the roster for 10 consecutive days, then the first player could come off the IL after that time period. But if the replacement player is optioned to the minors or also goes on the IL, then the first player has to wait at least 15 days before being activated.
“They thought it was a good enough incentive. But it simply does not create an incentive to not manipulate the roster. The one-to-one swaps would,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer then drew a line to this rule change and possible health risks. With 10-day IL stints, pitchers can hope to return after missing just one start. But with 15-day stints, they definitely miss two and are at risk of missing three. Scherzer is concerned that it could lead pitchers to push themselves through pain and suffer long-term injuries. He admitted that it is up to players to know their bodies, but he felt the rule does not best position them to be healthy and succeed.
When asked how that went over with MLB, Scherzer shook his head.
“Well, you saw the way the rule was written," he said. "I talked about this early in the offseason, even as early as December.”
Finally, Scherzer sees little utility for the reduced amount of time managers get to request a replay review. The allotted window was changed from 30 seconds to 20, but Scherzer’s point is that replay is not being used in the spirit it was intended and that this change does nothing to help.
The current process is that, when a close play happens, a manager holds his hand up in the dugout, and he has a coach call the video room to see whether a challenge is worth it. This sequence plays out over and over throughout a game, often multiple times per inning, and creates lulls in the action. Scherzer repeatedly expressed how frustrating those lulls are for players, and how they are created by how video replay is utilized.
“Replay is good for the game. We understand that. But one thing that drives us crazy is that we’re constantly looking at every single play,” Scherzer said. “We’re stopping the game, way too often, so we can call upstairs to see if the guy’s cleat came off on a slide on a steal, to see if it came off by one one-hundredth of an inch.”
He doesn’t blame anyone for considering each of those instances, each pickoff attempt or each call at first base that is even moderately close. The rules allow managers to take advantage of having video coordinators, and it would be egregious not to do so. Scherzer just wants MLB to make it so teams don’t have those 20 seconds — which will always run long — on every play.
His solution? A timeout system.
A play will unfold, and then a manager would have to immediately decide whether he wants to take a timeout. If he does, he would then have the same 20-second window to opt for a replay review. It would trigger the same process, with the dugout calling the video room to consider the options. The difference is that, with a limited number of timeouts, managers would have to be selective with when they choose to hold up the game.
“Right now, we see that as dead time and something we really don’t want in the sport,” Scherzer said. “If you had five timeouts, and that’s just me throwing out a number, you would only call them for bang-bang plays that truly deserve a review. It would get us back to why we put in replay in the first place.”
With 12 years in the majors and prominent roles in the MLBPA and on the rules committee, Scherzer has a feel for players’ opinions around baseball. He suggested, more than once, that each of these thoughts is a consensus opinion among the many peers he has spoken with. Now he hopes, through talking about it, that the decision-makers come around.
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