This season there will be big changes to the active roster in Major League Baseball.
Let’s look at how those might impact the Rays this year.
Extra Roster Spots
The biggest addition will be one full time MLB job for every team. Roster sizes increasing from 25 to 26 allows teams more options and be able to carry specialized roles more easily.
Now the additional roster spot comes with limitations. In the past teams could roster whatever configuration of pitchers and position players as they wanted. In recent years we’ve seen benches shortened in order to bring more pitchers to the active roster. Now you will have a maximum of 13 pitchers on a roster.
In September instead of being able to call up your whole 40 man roster you will be capped at 28 and 14 pitchers. I feel for the minor leaguers who earned call ups and earn around $100k for their MLB service time. The game in September looked much different than any other time of year, so this should help prevent the prevalence of 15-20 man bullpens.
For double headers teams still get an extra player expanding the roster to 27 and will allow teams to roster 14 pitchers for that day.
There is a new two-way player designation for the likes of Shohei Ohtani to have them not count towards your pitcher maximum. In order you qualify you need at least 20 starts as a position player in which you receive at least three plate appearances. For an organization with Brendan McKay this seems like something that could be useful, but that bar is very high and the only pitcher in the last 50 years that would qualify is Ohtani. The pitcher maximum isn’t burdensome, so this seems like a special rule for a very special player that isn’t really necessary.
Now there are different rules for pitchers and position players when it comes to the Injured List. When a pitcher is placed on the Injured List they will have to be gone for at least 15 days just like everybody before the 2017 season. Position players will remain an option for the 10-day Injured List. Pitchers must also spend 15 days in the minors before being recalled instead of the previous 10 days. Position players remain unavailable for 10 days. As in the past if you place a player on the Injured List you can call up a player before the designated time has elapsed.
A pitcher must face at least three batters or close out an inning. This rule is focused at minimizing pitching changes during innings. I don’t think will ultimately save all that much time as this isn’t a common occurance. I think this rule will effect the playoffs far more than the regular season.
Position players can’t pitch unless a game goes to extra innings or your team is winning or losing by six or more runs. Generally this novelty has been reserved for games that are past the point of being entertaining from either length or being a blowout. More position players have gone on the mound in recent years, and I get wanting to not turn the game into a circus. It doesn’t really change much.
Last year the Tampa Bay Rays sent a position player to the mound four times and threw 5.0 innings. 4.0 innings and 3 appearances from Michael Brosseau and 1.0 innings in Daniel Robertson’s lone appearance. In only one appearance did the game not qualify under the new rules. In a game on September 22 Brosseau entered with the Rays trailing 8-3 after they scored three runs in the previous half inning to cut the deficit to five.
How this will effect the 2020 Rays?
Initially I expected the pitching rules to effect the Rays the most. The Rays have pushed the limits of a 25 man roster on the pitching side. The additional roster spot gives the Rays more players to push small edges.
The Rays have generally ran a 12 man bullpen over the last few years with the occasional 13th man when needed. Despite getting the most innings out of the bullpen the last two years. Limitations on pitchers feels like a rule that is focusing on the Rays, but how many extra pitchers can they use unless they wanted to go full bullpen style everyday.
The 15 day rules for Injured List and options for pitchers was focused on the Los Angeles Dodgers as they would cycle through starting pitchers to keep them healthy and limit innings when needed. This will effect the Durham Shuttle some.
When I first heard these rules I assumed the Rays would use a 13 position player, 13 pitcher split for the 26 man, but based on their moves this winter I think I was wrong.
The Rays roster is built to abuse platoons. This will likely also make for different strategy when bringing in relievers who will have to face more than one batter most of the time.