Like everything else in 2020, things will be dramatically different for baseball this season. In addition to empty stadiums, there are a variety of MLB rule changes designed to speed up the game and protect the players and umpires in the midst of a pandemic. Following along with the theme of the crazy times we’re living in, MLB has adopted some pretty bizarre rule changes for this season.
Here’s a little primer on the main MLB rule changes for 2020 that you need to know about. Hopefully understanding these will help you avoid hitting replay on the remote over and over again in an attempt to figure out what the heck just happened.
MLB rule change with most impact is universal designated hitter
This new MLB rule change is one familiar to American League teams and their fans since 1973. This season, in an effort to avoid straining pitchers at the plate, MLB is adopting the designated hitter rule for both leagues. Hopefully, the National League teams will see the benefits of the rule in play this season and consider adopting the rule on a permanent basis going forward.
Sure, there are a few pitchers that are decent hitters — Shohei Ohtani doesn’t count — but a decent-hitting MLB pitcher translates into a .200 average. There’s a reason we don’t see position players in the majors with .200 averages. That’s because: a) it’s not fun for fans to watch a guy consistently struggle at the plate, and b) it’s not a productive at-bat for a team. Most NL teams are resigned to an out whenever the pitcher comes to the plate. That’s not a real competitive spirit.
Runner on second to start extra innings
This MLB rule change for 2020 is new to the majors but not baseball. It’s been in the experimental phase and used in the minors for a couple of years. With time of the essence in this shortened season, this new rule is an attempt to eliminate those extra-inning affairs that drag on into the wee hours of the morning.
If a game is tied after nine innings, each half-inning a runner starts on second base. If that runner scores, the pitcher won’t be charged with an earned run. The second base runner will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding the leadoff hitter for that half-inning, or a pinch-runner.
MLB rule change will include arguing from a safe distance
In this day of social distancing, players and managers will have to maintain safe physical distances from umpires and opposing players whenever possible. That includes arguing a call. If a player or manager must argue with an umpire, they must do so from at least six feet away. (Billy Martin is spinning in his grave.)
If a player or manager breaks that six-foot perimeter, they will be subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including a fine and a suspension. Interestingly, the punishment will be consistent with past precedent, and will not be reduced or prorated due to the shortened season.
Most bizarre MLB rule change is no spitting and a wet rag
Of all the MLB rule changes for 2020, this one is going to be the most interesting to watch. Since spitting is prohibited — we’re not sure how MLB will enforce that — pitchers are also prohibited from licking their fingers.
Instead, they will be allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket. Pitchers will not be able to access the rag while on the rubber, and must wipe the fingers of their pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the rubber. Water is the only substance that will be allowed on the rag.
All of the changes to the MLB rules for the 2020 season will take some time for teams and fans to adjust. In this day and age where adjusting on a daily basis has become the norm, adjusting to a few rule changes in MLB won’t be a problem. We’re just glad to have baseball back.