Rules, Rules, Rules and More Rules

Photo by Sol Tucker

Time for an off-day fun post: lets talk about rules and what changes we would like to see and what changes we expect MLB will make. I suspect that these two sets of rules will have very little overlap.

In the spirit of brainstorming sessions, no suggestion is too silly or off-beat. You never can tell where a completely impracticable suggestion can lead to. And this post will throw out some ideas that clearly won’t happen as they are written.

Please also consider countering any suggested idea with a modification that limits it use (e.g. I like the idea – but only for extra innings).

So lets get started.

Extra Innings

The runner on second rule is here to stay. Not even worth debating it. It does add a bit of excitement. Recognizing that the whole point is more offense, there are any number of other things that can be done to help increase the likelihood that a team scores runs – the more the better. This is something that will change over time and so when evaluating ideas recognize that teams will learn more about how to best optimize their chance of scoring runs. A side effect of this is that looking at the results so far this year is pretty pointless. Very limited data and teams have not figured out how to leverage it.

So here are a few ideas to whet your appetite:

  • First batter can’t bunt. It just seems like the current rule gives an advantage to the home team regardless of whether or not the away team scores. If the away team does not score, the home team knows they can bunt and sacrifice to get a run. Not a guarantee, but increases the likelihood of a win. Likewise if the away team scores one, the home team knows that they only need one run to extend the game. Getting rid of bunting by the first batter helps to minimize that.
  • Instead of the last batter in the previous inning being on second, teams can pick whoever they want. Perhaps some limits to make sure whoever gets put on second won’t have to bat before they either score or are forced out.
  • Allow any player replaced in the first 9 innings to re-enter the game.
  • Any of the Walk rules suggested below could be limited to just extra innings.
  • Start removing fielders after say the 11th inning. One per inning perhaps. They would stay in the batting order but would not play in the field.

The Designated Hitter

I hate the DH. Period. Case closed. But it is coming. So we have to deal with it. So the question becomes how do we tweak it to increase the strategy involved. Most of us know that the DH eliminates all the strategy about when to replace a pitcher.

Having a Designated Pinch Hitter (a DPH) who can bat for anyone brings back some strategy if you limit it to the DPH can only be used one time thru the batting order and no more than once an inning. For example, the manager can decide he wants to let the pitcher hit (a sacrifice bunt) in order to advance a running into scoring position and then use the DPH later in the inning.

We would likely need some additional rules about when/where to use the DPH, for example:

  • Whoever the DPH hits for has to replaced.
  • Perhaps exempt starting pitchers from the has to be replaced for the first 2 times thru the order, or 6 innings – whichever is later.

Home Runs

The Monday and Tuesday games against the Rays were really entertaining. None of the Nationals runs were the result of HRs; and between both nights the Rays only got one run from a HR. They were all due to small-ball, manufacturing runs, or just stringing hits together. It would be nice to bring that back to prominence. The value of the HR needs to be devalued in order to do that. So here are some ideas (and likely none of them ever happen – but see the brainstorming comment above):

  • Once a team has 3 HRs in the game, additional HRs go in the record book as HRs, but are treated like ground-rule doubles.
  • Make an exception to the prior rule for the 8th/9th inning and beyond for tied or one run games.
  • Once a player hits a HR, any others he hits are ground-rule doubles. Perhaps limit this to solo HRs.

Yea, none of these are realistic. But it is a nice fantasy.


There are three kinds of walks and we need not treat them all the same:

  • Intentional
  • Unintentional Intentional
  • Pitcher has control issues/batter extended the PA by fouling off pitches.

Intentional walks need to go away or become too costly. If I am a Nationals fan, I want Soto to hit; Braves fans want to see Acuna hit; Phillies fans want to see Harper hit; Mets fans want to see Alonso hit; Padres fans want to see Tatis hit; and so on; and so on.

Unintentional Intentional walks are usually obvious, but there is a chance of the wild pitch or a batter getting a hold of one that was too close to the strike zone.

So here are some ideas that can be applied perhaps selectively or across the board:

  • Everyone advances on a walk. Runner on second advances to third even if no one on first; runners on second and third go to third and score; runner on third scores.
  • Walks are two bases. I particularly like this for Intentional walks.
  • A two base walk could be mixed/matched with all runners advancing two bases or just enough to free up second for the batter.

Replay Review

These take too long and more transparency is needed. Once a play is under review, the fans in the stands and watching on TV get to see what the reviewing umpires see and get to hear any conversations.

And put a time limit on it. After some short fixed amount of time (once the review starts), if it is not obvious, the call on the field stands. Perhaps a time limit of 20/30 seconds is reasonable.

And finally, everything is potentially reviewable including balls/strikes, foul tips, fair or foul.

Three Batter Rule

This is probably also here to stay. A modification for a pitcher who clearly does not have it is probably appropriate. Perhaps the pitcher can be replaced once the batter walks or gets a hit.


Along with HRs becoming too commonplace, this is the other factor that limits good, old-fashioned run production. So here are a few ideas:

  • Infielders have to be in the infield. Or at least no more than a couple feet on the outfield grass (which will require some consistency across ball parks).
  • An infielder can’t move laterally more than say 20 feet in a single PA. This allows fielders to play closer if less than 2 outs or to cover bunts with less than 2 strikes.
  • An infielder must be within 15 feet of first as well as third; and two have to be within that distance from second base.

Any of the distance numbers listed above are just an initial suggestion.


Where to begin?

First and foremost, the issue of how bad the ball/strike calls have become. The sooner we can get to RoboUmp the better. And if that can’t be added for 2021, then MLB needs to publish of box score comparing the current Pitch F/X data for balls and called strikes with what the Home Plate Umpire called.

Everything needs to be subject to review.

And the umpires need to be subjected to post-game interviews just like the respective managers.

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