Everything We Like About MLB During the Unprecedented 2020 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 2, 2020

Everything We Like About MLB During the Unprecedented 2020 Season

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    It's not all bad, folks. Some of it is quite good.
    It's not all bad, folks. Some of it is quite good.Ben Margot/Associated Press

    There's never been a season like the one Major League Baseball is having. And hopefully, there will never be another.

    Still, that doesn't mean it's all bad.

    As weird as this season has been, we genuinely several things about it. Now that the madness of the trade deadline has passed, we're breaking these things down before the pennant races in the American and National Leagues heat up further.

    In no particular order, here are our six favorite facets of the 2020 MLB season.

The Fan Cutouts

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for anyone to take anyone else out to the ol' ballgame in 2020, so games are being played in front of empty stands.

    Unless, that is, you count the cutouts.

    On paper, the notion of baseball games being contested in front of cardboard images of people sounds dystopian. But at least it's preferable to digital fans—seriously, save that stuff for the next season of Black Mirror—and it's proved to be a source of good fun.

    One Chicago White Sox fan bought 100 seats so he could "observe" the game from all angles. Atlanta (here), the Minnesota Twins (here), the San Francisco Giants (here) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (here) are among the clubs that have surrounded the field with local legends and celebrities.

    Oh, and there have also been dogs. Because no baseball game ever loses anything when it has good girls and good boys in attendance.

    Hopefully, real fans (and dogs) will return in 2021. But in tandem with the piped-in crowd noise, the cardboard cutouts are giving games a charm that's very much welcome during trying times.

The On-Field Commentary

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The aforementioned crowd noise is weird, but it generally does the job of providing games with a more or less normal ambiance.

    Here's the thing, though: Because the fake crowd noise is mostly quiet, the mood of a given game is just as likely to stem from the sounds coming off the field.

    Now more than ever, fans have a window into what players, coaches and umpires are thinking and feeling at any given moment. Whereas in a normal season they're more easily seen than heard, in 2020 what they're saying is often just as clear as what they're doing.

    We love being able to hear the ecstatic reactions in dugouts whenever someone hits a home run or makes a clutch play. We'd also be lying if we said we weren't enjoying the more Quentin Tarantino-esque elements, such as the heated arguments and colorful language that on-field mics have inevitably caught.

    Like with the fan cutouts, we're not about to suggest that such things should become a new normal. But in the meantime, the sheer entertainment value of the on-field commentary is a nice change of pace.

Major League Debuts Galore

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    As far as what's actually happening in games this season, the shortened schedule, expanded rosters and a lack of a minor league season have conspired to create one pleasant byproduct.

    The rate of MLB debuts has shot up in 2020.

    According to Baseball Reference, 156 different players have made their debuts this season. That's already more than half the 261 who debuted in 2019, and this season has barely been going for more than a month.

    Granted, there isn't a whole lot to say about many of these 156 players. But hurlers such as Sixto Sanchez, Triston McKenzie and Deivi Garcia treated fans to a show in their respective debuts. Tyler Stephenson and Keibert Ruiz, meanwhile, homered in their first at-bats.

    Assuming the minor leagues come back and rosters shrink back to normal size in 2021, the rate of players making their MLB debuts will likely decline accordingly. But for now, bully for the 156 players (and counting) who'll walk away from 2020 with at least one memory worth cherishing.

The DH in the National League

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    As part of an effort to insulate players, coaches and staff members from the pandemic, MLB adjusted the 60-game schedule to include limited travel and more frequent interleague games.

    The latter naturally required some kind of rule that would even the playing field between the two leagues. So after nearly 50 years of existing strictly in the American League, the designated hitter has finally come to the National League.

    And you know what? It's fine.

    This author will admit to having a bias toward the DH, but it doesn't feel like anything has been lost now that pitchers are no longer hitting for themselves. Indeed, the story is about what has been gained. In a stunning reversal of the status quo, NL clubs (4.69 runs per game) are outscoring AL clubs (4.63).

    That's life when pitchers who had a .329 OPS in 2019 are swapped out for DHs who have a .708 OPS this season. And while AL clubs are still winning more often than not, the NL's .480 winning percentage marks one of its better performances in interleague play.

The New Extra-Innings Rule

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Compared to the grind of a 162-game season, the labor of this year's 60-game campaign might not sound so bad. But since there's more at stake in 2020, MLB made the right call with another rule meant to protect players.

    This is the one that puts a runner on second base for each frame whenever a game goes into extra innings. Not unlike the DH in the National League, it's an idea that might sound sacrilege to a purist.

    But this, too, has been fun. The arrival of extra innings is no longer liable to be met with a groan, as the rule has upped the leverage and heightened the drama of the occasion. With a runner automatically in scoring position, a walk-off can happen at any moment.

    Though not to an outrageous degree, it's not surprising that the average leverage index (i.e., the general amount of pressure within games) is up slightly from 2019 to 2020.

    Even better, games aren't lasting as long. There were 105 instances of a team playing at least 12 innings in 2019, or about 18 per month. So far in 2020, there have been only seven such instances.

7-Inning Doubleheaders

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for it to become clear that the pandemic would cause regular postponements and, by extension, more frequent doubleheaders. 

    So, MLB and the MLB Players Association quickly agreed on yet another new rule meant to protect players: All doubleheaders would consist of seven-inning games.

    Whether this makes for a better viewing experience is in the eye of the beholder. If anyone doesn't feel like it's right that the seventh inning is now effectively the ninth inning, well, that's fair.

    Yet there's been a palpable sense of urgency within the seven-inning games. They've also gone by about as quickly as one would expect. Whereas a normal nine-inning game is taking three hours and eight minutes to complete, Atlanta and the New York Yankees had one doubleheader in which both ends (here and here) were played in roughly two hours.

    Inevitably, some are calling for seven-inning games to become baseball's new standard. We won't go that far, but keeping them for doubleheaders beyond 2020 wouldn't be the worst idea.

              

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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