MLB Rule Changes: The times they are a-changin’

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 26: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona #17 challenges a call with home plate umpire Jim Joyce during the second inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers on April 26, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 26: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona #17 challenges a call with home plate umpire Jim Joyce during the second inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers on April 26, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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Cincinnati pitcher Michael Lorenzen prepares to bat. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Cincinnati pitcher Michael Lorenzen prepares to bat. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

MLB Rule Changes: The times they are a-changin’

The two-way player

In deference to two-way players such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and Cincinnati’s Michael Lorenzen, MLB has carved out an exception to its limitations on the use of position players as pitchers. The exception allows teams to designate so-called “two-way players” under certain conditions.

Those players would be allowed to enter the game as pitchers at any point, and can also play the field.

In order to qualify as a two-way player, however, the player must have pitched at least 20 innings the previous season, or he must pitch 20 innings in 2020.

In the case of players such as Ohtani who were prevented by injury from pitching in 2019, the 20-inning requirement can be met by counting 2018 innings on the mound.

The true two-way player remains rare, although a few teams have toyed with it in the face of ever-expanding bullpens taking up as many as 13 roster spots. Ohtani and Lorenzen are believed to be the only two who would qualify in 2020 based on previous performance.

Lorenzen, who is predominantly a pitcher, got 53 plate appearances in 2019, nearly 40 of them as a pinch hitter or outfielder. He also pitched 83 innings.

The impact of the “two-way player” designation may, however, be muted by a companion rule change also going into effect this spring that de-emphasizes roster flexibility.