Explaining MLB's New Pitcher Rules, Roster Limit Changes for 2020 Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2020

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 06: Manager Terry Francona #77 of the Cleveland Indians removes relief pitcher Dan Otero #61 from the game during the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field on April 06, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the 2020 MLB season on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, fans will have to wait to see the league's new rules in action.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended any events with more than 50 people in attendance be canceled or postponed for at least eight weeks in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

MLB announced Monday that the regular season would be delayed for as long as the CDC's moratorium is in effect. USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported the year may not start until Memorial Day weekend (May 25) or later.

When baseball returns, the game will look slightly different, with commissioner Rob Manfred continuing his efforts to speed up the pace of play.

The three-batter minimum for pitchers is the biggest change.

The guideline is fairly straightforward. A pitcher has to face at least three batters or see out the remainder of an inning before he can exit the game. The obvious exception is when a pitcher is injured during the course of his appearance.

The intended effect is to cut down on the number of pitching changes, which can become particularly tedious in the postseason. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona expressed reservations about the new directive when speaking to The Athletic's Jayson Stark:

"Look, I think MLB has done an unbelievable job. Every time they put rules in, they explain things to us. But this is the one time I cannot get it through my head. They're telling you how to compete. On our team, we show up early and we stay late. One of the things we try to do is run our bullpen better than the other team. Sometimes we're more successful than others. We're not infallible. But I think the unintended consequences of this — I just don't think they've thought them through."

The three-batter minimum will lead to an adjustment period for Francona and his colleagues. Once it becomes the new normal, managers should have an easier time laying out a plan for their bullpen.

The additional changes for 2020 largely focus on roster construction rather than the on-field play.

Teams can now carry 26 players, an increase from 25, until the rosters expand starting in September. Along with that, franchises are limited to 28 roster spots for the September expansion, and a maximum of 14 slots can be allotted for pitchers at that time.

Players such as Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani, who can both hit and pitch, receive a special two-way designation. In order to qualify for the status, the player has to have pitched at least 20 innings and started 20 games as a position player/designated hitter in the current or previous season.

To the disappointment of some fans, MLB is restricting when position players can take the mound.

Baltimore Orioles @Orioles

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They can only toe the rubber in extra innings or in games where the teams are separated by six or more runs.

In general, baseball won't look fundamentally different when the 2020 season finally opens.