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Baseball according to ‘airport rules’: Are the 2020 rule modifications working?

MLB has made changes, but not all of them are a good idea

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I think a lot about the “So We’re Gonna Try to Keep Doing This” episode of the Purple Dinosaur Podcast. In it, Anthony Masterson and Tyler Maun explained how we’re now all living by “airport rules.” They learned of the idea on Twitter in this tweet by Alyssa Limperis:

This was about a month into the lockdown when everything was less strange and the boredom was beginning to settle in.

“We’re all living by airport rules anymore. There are no rules,” Masterson and Maun said. “You want a drink at 7:30 am? Go for it. You won’t be alone at the bar.”

Perhaps think of the 2020 MLB season as baseball’s “airport rules season” with the owners and players trying out a battery of new rules.

With two weeks of baseball behind us, it’s time to consider what’s working and what’s not so effective.

What’s working

It’s a sprint, not a marathon

Baseball (generally) is all about the 162-game season. Which teams can survive the grind to win the World Series? In 2020, however, with only 60 games, the marathon is gone. It’s all about winning today, given that each game is worth 2.7 games in a regular season.

Games feel urgent and fast. It’s a radical departure from a regular season, but in 2020 when the entire world is trying to defeat COVID-19, it fits the moment.

Should it stay? No. Baseball is all about the long game, but right now, it’s perfect.

The designated hitter

I, too, am a big fan of Germán Márquez at the plate. However, it’s impossible to deny that having Matt Kemp or Daniel Murphy hitting in his stead is a better use of his offensive slot. It makes the lineup consistently tough with no “just get to the pitcher” easy outs. Moreover, it decreases the possibility that a pitcher will be injured. I know there will be purists that disagree with me, but baseball — like all institutions — needs to evolve.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It gives players like Charlie Blackmon a day off their feet without losing their bat in the lineup, and it’s an opportunity to hide the marginal fielding skills of Daniel Murphy.

Should it stay? Yes. It’s time for the DH in the National League. (There. I said it.)


Should the National League adopt the designated hitter?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Yes, it’s long overdue
    (103 votes)
  • 44%
    No, the DH has no place in baseball — or at least not in the NL
    (81 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now
The temporary East, Central, and West divisions

These divisions were created to reduce travel and to create a kind of “bubble” to decrease opportunities for outbreaks. (While the East and Central have seen play disrupted, the West — knock on wood — remains unaffected.) The plan is best illustrated in this tweet from Daren Wilman:

In addition to the bubbles, I’ve enjoyed getting to see teams regularly play each other that typically don’t. For the Rockies, it will mean getting to play (among others) the Angels and Mariners, and it seems like a treat we’ve earned. (It also keeps us from having to deal with the Cubs — an added benefit.) In addition, it means more meetings between, say, the Yankees and the Nationals and the Twins and the Cardinals.

Should it stay? No. It’s a treat for 2020; in 2021, baseball needs to return to regular order.

The extra-innings rule

MLB is using an extra-innings rule first piloted in MiLB that begins extra innings with the last runner to get an out on second base. (I’m a fan, which I’ve written about before.) The Rockies have yet to play an extra-innings game in 2020, but I’ve watched other teams play it out, and I’m still an advocate.

Maybe it’s because I’ve tweeted too many extra-innings games, always at Oracle Park, that go on and on and on. One Giants game I tweeted went 18 innings. It was very late; everyone was exhausted; the seagulls were cranky; the strike zone was inconsistent; the announcers were giddy; things got weird; and as Germán Márquez donned his batting gloves to pinch hit, it occurred to me that should Márquez be injured, it would be ridiculous. Plus, the players had to play an early get-away game the next day.

Colorado Rockies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Besides, games that start overtime with a player on second are tense, beginning in medias res. The strategy is already in play. (You can read more about that in Mike Petriello’s analysis, and you can see what a variety of Sports Illustrated writers think here.) Jim Bowden writes that it’s popular with general managers, managers, and players. Myself, I like it. (You can read Russell A. Carleton’s analysis here.)

Should it stay? Yes, but with one modification: Play the tenth inning as usual; in the eleventh, put a runner on second.


Should the new extra-innings rule stay?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Yes, it speeds up games and requires strategy
    (42 votes)
  • 43%
    No, play the games out
    (65 votes)
  • 28%
    Go with a compromise
    (42 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now
Seven-inning double headers

Sprinting through a 60-game season means that every inning counts. Also, we know now that doubleheaders will be a way for MLB to make up missed games due to COVID-19-forced rescheduling and to reduce the wear and tear on players, especially pitchers. With all this in mind, it only makes sense to shorten up doubleheaders, a plan MLB and the MLBPA agreed to take effect on August 1.

And here’s something to consider from former Rockie Mike Tauchman:

I don’t hate Tauchman’s proposal but it merits more thought, so I include it here for your consideration.

Should it stay? No. With 2021, we should return to the real nine-inning deal.

What’s not working?

The three-batter minimum

This was originally introduced to quicken pace of play by keeping managers from frequent pitching changes. (Looking at you, Bruce Bochy.) While the intention was good, the execution has not been. When a pitcher gets in trouble, it means more traffic on the bases, and the games get longer — painfully longer. No pitcher who’s struggling benefits from having to stay in and face more batters. It also reduces opportunities for the manager to inject some strategy into the game with matchups.

Should it stay? Absolutely not. Fire this one into the sun.

Attempting to create the with-fans game experience in empty ballparks

I’ve written about this at length (see here and here), so I won’t belabor the point except to add that the Coors Field experience of placing cardboard cutouts of former Rockies (and Dinger) behind home plate has the effect of making the box look like a courtroom with the jury comprised of former Rockies judging current Rockies’ play.

MLB: AUG 04 Giants at Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nolan Arenado can handle that kind of scrutiny, but it has to be weird for him, knowing that Helton and CarGo are looking on.

Should it stay? No.

What remains to be seen?

The expanded playoffs

Clearly, it’s too soon to know because we haven’t experienced them yet, but it’s worth mentioning that 16 teams will make the playoffs in 2020. (You can read the details here.) This has the potential to penalize a team that has done well during the regular season, and if the playoffs are moved to neutral sites due to COVID-19, then any home-field advantage is lost.

For consistently good teams, it’s probably a bad idea. For marginal teams, it increases the odds they’ll see the postseason. And everyone makes more money. So far this season, regional viewership is up for many teams, and the playoffs are when the real money is made.

Should it stay? Let’s revisit this in November.

There have been other changes, such as a 20-second time allottment to challenge a play or the designation of two-way players or revisions to the Injured List and Option Periods, but those seem to have a minimal impact on the game, at least so far.

What are your thoughts on the new and special rules for 2020? Let us know in the comments.