When news broke that Major League Baseball was considering extending the Disabled List from 10 days back to 15 days, there was both confusion and finger-pointing.
Confusion in that such a policy would seem to go against player safety concerns, as we wrote previously:
There were many reasons a 10-day disabled list was introduced, and chief among them was the protection of players. Teams may be more hesitant to put players on the DL for low-severity injuries if they will be unavailable for more than two weeks.
Incentivising teams to keep injured players on the 25-man roster may indeed add offense to the game, but not for the reasons teams should want. This is not a good look for MLB when upcoming labor negotiations are at the forefront of players minds.
Finger-pointing in that The Associated Press, who broke the news, put the blame squarely on the Rays for the new policy.
MLB’s plan would also extend the amount of time players must remain in the minors, something The AP also tied to “The Opener” strategy, further placing the blame on Tampa Bay.
Ken Rosenthal, writing for The Athletic, is calling bullshit.
Hey, leave the Rays alone!
A number of media reports indicated the Rays were a target of baseball’s recent proposals to reinstate the 15-day disabled list and increase the amount of time an optioned player must spend in the minors, also from 10 to 15 days. But the facts show the Rays’ introduction of “the opener” last season did not result in them manipulating either rule.
The AP’s report cited two trends for their support of the rule change’s logic — the increasing average number of relievers used per game, and the decrease in average innings per start per game, across all 30 baseball teams — implicating the Rays for both.
They also referenced the increasing use of the Disabled List across all teams.
It didn’t make much sense then, and now that Rosenthal has used his powers at The Athletic to pool the data, it doesn’t make sense now either.
According to unofficial data obtained by The Athletic, the Rays ranked 12th in the number of pitchers optioned in 2018, increasing their total by just one from the previous year. The Angels led the majors with 42 pitchers optioned, followed by the Mets, Dodgers, Brewers and Braves. The Astros were last with nine.
The number of minimum-length DL stays for pitchers, meanwhile, totaled just 39 league-wide, an indication “the phantom DL” is perhaps not as big a problem as baseball believes. The Dodgers had five pitchers serve the minimum time, and the only other teams with more than two such stints were the Phillies (four), the Rangers (four) and the Red Sox. The Rays were one of nine clubs with zero.
The Rays implemented The Opener strategy as a means to circumvent losing three starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery across Spring Training and the first two weeks of the season, and yet they still managed to keep their players in the big leagues more than many of their peers.
Based on the numbers, it’s difficult to conclude the Rays employed their new and revolutionary pitching structure to exploit the system.