Recapping the 2020 MLB Rule Changes


(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Connor Easterday

As the Los Angeles Dodgers make their way home after a 4-2 series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, the 2020 MLB season has miraculously come to a close. From the heated negotiations back before the season even started to the last at-bat in the final game, there has been ongoing confusion, worrying, and bickering from the players, league officials, and fans alike. Many people thought that we’d never see this day, yet here we are. Well now that we’ve made it, it’s important we have a bit of a referendum on the imperfect, COVID-tailored season that we just witnessed.

Prior to the start of the season, MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, instituted a take-it-or-leave-it proposal that would shake up much of what we’re used to seeing from this league. There were a number of rule changes altering how the game could be played, along with longer term adjustments that affect how managers can run their teams. Some of them were popular, and will likely be carried over into the 2021 season. Others were opposed by fans and will likely never be seen again. And some were merely established because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re going to examine each one and truly analyze this wild, wonky, unexpected ride we were just taken on.

First and foremost, the obvious altercation to this past season was the length. An ordinary MLB season would last seven months, beginning in March and extending through October. This year, however, was only three months. Because the season began so late, teams only played 60 games opposed to the standard 162. This is a one-time thing and will not be repeated.

Other rule changes, such as the universal DH, were more popular. The DH, or designated hitter, rule allows teams to use another player to bat in place of the pitcher, despite not ever taking the field on defense. The rule has one exception which is that it’s only used in the American League, not the National League. Reasons for this goes back to the early-1970’s. What’s important is that for the first time ever, this season, the National League used designated hitters. Many baseball lifers have opposed the idea of a universal DH, mostly because of historical reasons. However, the trial run this past season was met with much praise. Fans have always argued over whether or not the rule makes sense, but now that it’s actually been played out in a season format, there seems to be a decent chance that it has stuck and will remain with the MLB through next season at least.

Another rule change that has been popular is the expanded playoff format. Normally, the postseason includes ten teams and opens with one sudden-death wild card game in each league. The format extends through four rounds. For the 2020 season, there remained four rounds. However, 16 teams were included, and instead of a round featuring the wild card game, every team played a best of three series to move on. Detractors argue that, much like in the NBA, 16 out of 30 teams is too much of the league, includes teams with losing records, and will make the playoffs less competitive. Proponents of the format prefer the opening round gauntlet with eight concurring best of three series opposed to the two wild card games. There is much disagreement over whether this new format will carry over to 2021, however it seems to go over with fans pretty well, and will definitely be discussed.

There were also some less obvious rule changes such as the three-batter minimum rule, which requires a pitcher to face a minimum of three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning. This along with others such as the extra inning rule and seven-inning doubleheaders were all met with mixed reviews. Overall, the season as a whole was a bumpy road with ups and downs. There were moments of doubt and fear that the whole thing could come crashing down. The fact that it didn’t is a success in it of itself. From now until next season, there will be plenty of quarreling and bickering over all of the rules I’ve mentioned and more. However, it’s important to remember that we’re lucky just to have gotten a season at all.