Thursday, March 14, 2019

MLB To Implement Rule Changes

While they haven't been made official, reports are that Major League Baseball will implement a handful of rules changes. Some of them will not happen until the 2020 season, while some will go into effect this season.

Here are the rule changes that will take place this season...

1. Mound visits will be reduced from six to five per game.

I don't remember the six visit rule having an effect on a single game last season. I'm sure it did, but not enough to care.

2. Commercial breaks will be 20 seconds shorter than last season.

This is another change that doesn't move me at all. I'm not a very patient person but I can wait 20 more seconds if necessary. As long as players have enough time to warm up before an inning then I don't care.

3. There will be a new 24 hour voting period.

Previously fans had one long voting period, but this season will be a little different. There will still be that longer vote, but at the end of that the top three at each position will then enter a 24 hour voting period that will determine the starter for the All Star game.

This change is all about Major League Baseball getting the opportunity for more traffic to their website, and to get teams to be more active in their own advertising and social media presense. That's it. I see no other reason for this change.

4. A prize pool of $2.5 million will be created for the Home Run Derby, with $1 million of it going to the winner.

I like this rule change as it gives players, particularly those that make at or near the league minimum, a real incentive to join the derby. I say "real" because I learned that previously players only had their cost of travel and hotel covered, along with tickets to the derby and All Star game.

I think there's a much better chance that we see more stars in this contest, making it much more interesting. Which will not only be good for those watching it, but will make it much more marketable for the league itself. A very nice win-win.

5. There will be a real trade deadline this season on July 31st.

In the past players could be dealt after that date as long as they cleared waivers, but this time around it doesn't matter. No trades after July 31st... period.

This is the most significant rule change happening this season, and I'm surprised it's happening right away. What this has done is make the offseason much more important as teams can not count on smaller offseason additions to fix roster issues. Like the Yankees being able to add Andrew McCutchen when Aaron Judge's return from injury was full of questions such as "when will it happen" and "how will he return". So teams will have to go into the season already having backup plans in case of something like that.

The rule change also makes the July 31st deadline so much more exciting. I don't think there will be more sellers, as a team that has a chance at the postseason is unlikely to give up that shot. However, I see better returns for those that do decide to sell, as more contending teams will be in on those players made available. A team like the Astros can't sit back and hope a team like the Tigers finally decide to sell a big-time guy like Justin Verlander on August 31st. If the Astros think they'll need a pitcher they have to move now and deal with more competition for a certain guy.

Now for the rule changes that won't take effect until next year...

1. Position players will not be eligible to pitch unless one of the following things happen...

  • a game goes into extra innings
  • a player has pitched at least 20 innings and started 20 games at a position or DH, and thus can be labeled by the team as a "two way" player (think Shohei Ohtani)
  • the run difference in a game is at least eight runs
I had no idea that this was a problem at all. I guess this is a way to get relievers more work, but I can't imagine any general manager thinking "nah, we don't need another reliever, just have the worst position player pitch."

I guess I can add this one to the "who cares" pile.

2. Rosters will expand to 26 players, with a maximum of 13 pitchers. And instead of rosters expanding to 40 in September, they will only go to 28 with no more than 14 pitchers.

Any rule that creates more jobs at the Major League level is a good in to me. Teams can sure as hell afford to pay one more player (then two more in September to the end of the season) a year.

This will also make things easier for managers, as they will have more options for their starting lineup and for making substitutions during the game. Imagine if this rule was on the books now... the Yankees would not have to possibly put one of Luke Voit or Greg Bird in AAA, as they probably don't want a first base-only guy on the bench along with Romine, LeMahieu*, and Wade.

*I'm preparing for Tulowitski opening the season at shortstop, with Andujar at third base and Torres at second.

3. Pitchers will have to face at least three batters, unless they finish the inning.

It makes a manager's job more difficult, as they can't count on a guy for a single batter. Sure, if there's already two outs a manager can go to a one-out specialist, but there's the risk that if their specialist fails that reliever will have to face at least one more hitter that they're not specialized for.

Although I think this rule is unnecessary, I do like that pitchers that can face more than one type of hitter (aka "non-specialists" like a LOOGY) will have more value and thus are more likely to get a job. It's like having a guy on a 12-man basketball team that's only there because he's good at shooting free throws, instead of a player that can be put into a game to help the team during a live ball. In other words the better player gets the job.

I read somebody on Twitter say that some of these rules will create more offense. I'm not totally on board with that being true, but I can see what he's saying. The issue I have with that thinking is that he said that as if it's a bad thing. Sure, I enjoy seeing dominant pitching performances, but I understand that such a fan is more of the "die hard" nature. And "die hard" fans are not going anywhere. They didn't walk away from the game after there was a strike in the mid 90s, and they're not going to walk away from the game now. Major League Baseball, just like any other league, is after the casual fan. And casual fans 1. do not want to be bored with more slow periods during a game and 2. typically want to see more runs scored.

If a rule change turns out to be a negative I think MLB will change back, or fix what didn't work. But the bottom line is I can't think of anything they can do to keep me from watching, and I'm definitely not alone there. So they can keep throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. Besides, it's not like they're hard up for money, anyway.

Tanaka vs Cobb, Let's Get This Party Started...

In two weeks, the doors of Yankee Stadium will open…

Ready or not, Opening Day is a scant fourteen days away. On Thursday, March 28th, at 1:05 pm EDT, Masahiro Tanaka will fire the first official 2019 pitch at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles and we’ll be off to the races for 162 games PLUS (heavy emphasis on the ‘plus’). The Orioles have announced RHP Alex Cobb will get the Opening Day nod over Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner.  

Cobb signed with Baltimore as a free agent in late March last year and it showed with disastrous April results. He lost his first three starts with 13.11 ERA and 2.83 WHIP.  A 6.03 K/9 pitcher for the year, he was unable to strike anyone out in two of those first three games. With the benefit of a full training camp, Cobb should be more prepared for his second season in Birdland. Steamer projects a 9-13 record in 31 starts with 4.89 ERA (4.50 xFIP) and 1.6 fWAR. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to hear Michael Kay’s first “There it goes! See ya!” of the new season. I don’t think any of the Orioles pitchers strike fear in the hearts of the Yankees, and it should be a good opportunity to get the season started on the right foot.   

It was reported this week the MLB Players Association and MLB have agreed upon the elimination of the waiver trading deadline in August which makes the July non-waivers deadline a hard date for player trades. This year’s trading deadline is Wednesday, July 31st. In theory, it should spark more trade activity in July than in years past and will force teams to make earlier decisions about whether they are buyers and sellers. I am probably most concerned about potential injuries in August and the need to fill unplanned vacancies from within the organization. Depth at certain positions can be weak so it will force organizations to work harder to cover depth at all positions in the off-season which I suppose is an intended consequence.  The change is effective this year. 

Another change is the expansion of roster size from 25 to 26 players in 2020 with a maximum of 13 pitchers. On September 1st of 2020, the expansion of rosters will be reduced from 40 to 28 players and no more than 14 pitchers. At face value, I am glad to see the addition of a bench spot for another position player. The transition of the game to deeper bullpens has left bench roles perilously thin. Hopefully the addition of a player will help keep guys fresher for the long season. While the change is not effective this year, the potential 26th men at the present time are Clint Frazier and the expected loser of the first base competition, Greg Bird.

The new MLB-MLBPA deal is expected to be announced today. 

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, other changes include the three-batter minimum for pitchers although a start of a new inning would allow a pitching substitution. I think back a couple of years and wonder what it would have been like if the Yankees had been forced to use Tyler Clippard for at least three consecutive batters on days when he simply didn’t have it. I can see a pitcher coming into a game with an inability to throw strikes and suddenly the bases are loaded…or worse. I get the pace of play implications but I guess the traditionalist in me would like to see the game decisions in the hands of the managers. Silly me. There’s also a new $1 million bonus for the winner of the All-Star Home Run Derby. Makes me wonder if it will influence a lower paid guy like Aaron Judge to participate. I know Judge makes most of his money through endorsements right now but I am sure that a way to pick up an extra mil is enticing for some.  

It was a bummer that last night’s Spring Training game against the Philadelphia Phillies was not televised. Although the game ended in a 5-5 tie, it was Bryce Harper’s first Phillies start against the Yankees.  If for no other reason, I am looking forward to the regular season so that every game is televised. Harper was booed  unmercifully by the Yankee fans at Steinbrenner Field or so they say since I didn’t actually see it. I don’t really get it. It’s not Bryce’s fault that he is not a Yankee.  The Yankees chose not to pursue him in free agency despite the wishes of the fans. Bryce is on record saying the Yankees never reached out to him despite his childhood love for the Pinstripes. If Bryce historically crushed Yankee pitching, then maybe that’s a reason to boo him but he has been largely ineffective in his short body of work facing the Yankees. I would have liked for the Yankees to sign Harper but they didn’t and we must move on. I know I am very excited to see what Year 2 brings for Giancarlo Stanton. Regardless of whether you preferred Harper over Stanton, I think Stanton is going to be more relaxed this year and will more closely resemble the player that dominated baseball in 2017 for the Miami Marlins.  

Back to the first base competition, I thought it was funny when it was reported yesterday that Aaron Boone was wearing a Luke Voit t-shirt in the clubhouse. Boone also commented that Voit batting cleanup (as he did last night) could carry into the season, adding that he could see Voit anywhere from third to sixth in the order. In other words, it is Greg Bird and not Voit who should be making living accommodations in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  

Jose Canseco, shut up! Your fifteen minutes of fame came and went. Let it go, Cheater. Alex Rodriguez owes you nothing.

Credit: Getty Images
For those of you who are New York Jets fans, my apologies for the Anthony Barr situation but I am glad it worked out the way it did. Granted, Barr, a linebacker, is not a superstar level player but I like his role in Minnesota’s defense. I’ve been a lifelong Vikings fan. I think Barr is capable of so much more and I hope the Vikings use Barr as an edge rusher like the Jets intended to do. For those of you not following, Barr had agreed to a free agent deal with the Jets on Monday, only to renege the next morning and subsequently sign an extension to stay in Minneapolis. I had been dreading NFL free agency, fearful of losing Barr. The Vikings had done a good job of signing their young core players despite the massive overpay for QB Kirk Cousins, but Barr had remained unsigned. With salary cap implications, it appeared Barr would be wearing a different uniform this Fall. For a few hours earlier this week, the Jets fans thought he’d be wearing hunter green and white.  For all of Minnesota’s free agents, Barr was the one I wanted to keep. Jets fans were unhappy about his change of heart but I was truly grateful. It kind of reminded me of the time David Wells had a change of heart after agreeing to a two-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and signed with the Yankees on a napkin. There may not have been a napkin involved with Barr but the impact is the same. Glad he’s on my team.  

As always, Go Yankees!  

Predicting the 2019 Season: The Cy Young Awards

Pitching can make or break a team, ask the 2018 Yankees that, according to some fans anyway, could never have enough pitchers. To a point, it’s true. Look at the first half Yankees from last season and the first half that their ace, Luis Severino, had. He was money and the Yankees were in first place. In the second half, Severino tailed off a bit, as did the Yankees who ultimately settled for a Wild Card berth and an eventual dismissal in the ALDS at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Pitching makes a huge difference, especially when you have Cy Young caliber pitching. Who will have that Cy Young caliber year in 2019 and win the award? Keep reading to find out!

Chris Sale has somehow never won a Cy Young Award. Shocking, right? Sale has finished in the top five of the votes for six straight seasons, but I truly think the 2019 season will be the year that he finally closes the gap and captures the award. I know this sounds like an easy pick, and I know many expected me to pick a Yankee like Luis Severino, but really, it’s not. Not after the second half that Sale had and the shoulder problems that he may or may not have had. I don’t feel like this is a safe pick whatsoever. Sale wins the award, but the Yankees win the ultimate prize. I’ll take that.

In the National League I wanted to go with Max Scherzer or even Jacob deGrom, but I just can’t. Aaron Nola is special and with the security of a long-term extension now comforting him, I can see the Phillies right-hander breaking out in a big way in 2019. Nola may win 20 games for all we know. Do I think Nola will have enough help behind him in the rotation to really put the Phillies over the edge as a team? Probably not, especially if you look at my predictions that had Philadelphia finishing third, but I truly think Aaron is lining up for a special kind of season here in 2019.