MLB Rule Changes: A critique of critiques of the new relief rule

MONTERREY, MEX - APRIL 13: Eugenio Suarez #7 and Jose Peraza #9 of the Cincinnati Reds look on during a pitching change during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey on Saturday, April 13, 2019 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)
MONTERREY, MEX - APRIL 13: Eugenio Suarez #7 and Jose Peraza #9 of the Cincinnati Reds look on during a pitching change during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey on Saturday, April 13, 2019 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images) /
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Contrary to critics of new MLB rule changes requiring a relief pitcher to face three batters does not impose a new strategy, it amends an existing one.

As a traditionalist by nature, I totally get it when people react negatively to MLB rule changes. Personally I’m still adjusting to the concept of the DH.

But it nettles me when experts whose views I support and admire raise objections to proposed rules changes that are founded on illogic or inconsistency.

On a recent edition of MLB Network’s MLB Tonight, columnist Tom Verducci panned the game’s decision to implement a rule change next season generally requiring relief pitchers to face a minimum of three batters.

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Verducci’s beef with that change included his view that such a rule will not materially shorten games – one of the stated reasons for imposing it. But he said his principal objection was that it impeded managers’ abilities to dictate their teams’ strategies, a step he believed the rules ought not to take.

I generally share Verducci’s contention that rulebooks ought to stop short of dictating in-game strategies. That’s one reason why I remain uncomfortable with the shot clock in basketball. That rule is a direct imposition on an underdog team’s ability to strategize its way to an upset over a favored team, and it exists for one very non-strategic reason: Fans hate games that emphasize passing overshooting.

Baseball isn’t basketball, but the concepts translate. But the major reason Verducci is wrong is because his basic argument isn’t valid. In dictating that pitchers face at least three batters, MLB isn’t imposing a limitation on strategies, it’s merely altering an existing limitation.

For the entirety of his and my lifetimes, the game has required that pitchers entering the game face at least one-hitter. This, by the way, is not a strategic limitation imposed equally on batters, who can be lifted before they have done anything more strenuous or athletic than having their names announced.

Rather it is a unique restriction imposed on pitchers.

The idea of restrictions on strategy not only isn’t new, but it’s also ongoing…and often supported. Do those who object to this imposition on strategy also object — as I  do — to the serious discussion now being conducted about requiring infielders to station themselves in certain pre-defined areas…in other words, to shift limitations? Or is their objection to this particular strategic limitation a singular one?

The logical position of people objecting to the relief pitcher rule change that will be implemented in 2020 would be that managers of teams in the field should have the same opportunity possessed by managers of hitting teams: to remove pitchers at any point of their choosing for any reason until one side or the other either runs out of roster options or gets tired.

If Verducci raised that point, I would applaud him. If you want strategy, that change would create strategy.

But contrary to Verducci’s assertion, these MLB rule changes don’t actually impose a strategy, it merely amends an existing one.

Next. Yankees not done; 3 moves the team still must make. dark

To Tom and others exercised over this change as a violation of managerial prerogative, I would pose one question: Have you at any time in your professional lives objected to the existing one-batter requirement? If not, what’s your problem now?