ROTISSERIE: The rules they are a-changin’

The past few years, Major League Baseball has taken a hard look at their rules every off-season. Some changes are made to increase competition, some are for safety or playability, and some are to eliminate loopholes that allow teams to create unintended advantages. This season’s set of rules, due to go into effect in 2020, is a mix of all of the above.

As we have seen in previous seasons, even innocuous-seeming changes can have big effects on the fantasy game. Let's examine:

The LOOGY Rule

A relief pitcher must face at least three batters unless he completes a half-inning.

While this may affect MLB managers’ strategies somewhat, the impact on fantasy baseball should be minimal. First off, how many of us own one-PA type relievers? Second, in 2019, only 1.6% of relief appearances were one-batter outings where the pitcher did not close out the inning. There may be an upward tick in reliever volatility, as managers can’t pull a guy now if his stuff isn’t good. However, the low number of such occurrences means that this will be minimal.

The greater effect might be on MLB roster management…

Miami Marlins Rule

(The Marlins are notoriously cheap, to the point where they barely expanded their roster in September last season.)

New rule:
MLB has expanded the active roster from 25 to 26 players. At the same time, September rosters will grow to only 28 players. The number of pitchers a team may carry on its active roster will be capped, based on a determination by a joint MLB/MLBPA committee.

The effect here in September should be minimal. Few teams went all the way to 40 players, and several stayed under 30. In a few keeper leagues, this may reduce the opportunities to grab a recent prospect breakout when he makes an appearance in the majors, but that’s a small number of leagues. There could be some collateral effects, however:

  • More September IL moves: Many teams would leave injured players on the bench rather than placing them on the IL, since they had plenty of bodies to fill in. Now, with only two extra players, teams will use the IL more when a player is marginally injured.
  • Fewer players padding stats: Since there will be fewer minor-league players to face, we may see September stats drop a bit, though probably not enough to be noticeable.

The 26-man roster could have a significant impact on how fantasy GMs manage their teams. A lot will depend on how teams use that extra slot—will they carry an extra hitter for more late-game matchups? Or will they carry yet one more pitcher? Our guess is pitchers more than hitters but the "committee" could make that a moot point. Either way, there are some predictable effects:

  • Top players become more valuable: That 26th man isn’t cutting into Mike Trout’s playing time. It’s the mid-level and lower players who will be affected, as MLB teams play matchups more.
  • Starting pitchers throw fewer innings: We can predict that some teams, at least, will use the extra slot for a pitcher. That means more relief options (especially combined with the three-batter rule), which means less reason to leave a starter in. Even if teams add an extra hitter, this makes pinch-hitting for a starting pitcher in the NL a bit easier. This places a premium on PT for starting pitchers.
  • Fewer IL moves: This rule, combined with the one discussed below, should result in fewer IL moves, especially for pitchers. With the extra player, teams can weather short-term injuries better, and there is now a higher cost for placing a pitcher on the IL. While this may reduce the need to stock up on arms, the players most affected will be on the fringe, anyway. If a player is hurt, he’ll still hit the IL.

The cap on pitchers may have an effect, but we can’t begin to analyze that until the actual cap is announced.

Los Angeles Dodgers Rule

(The Dodgers are known for using IL and minor-league option rules to their fullest extent, churning their pitching staff to an almost ridiculous extent.)

New rule:
The minimum time a pitcher must spend on the IL will be increased to 15 days. Likewise, the minimum time a pitcher must spend in the minor leagues after being optioned will increase to 15 days, unless he is needed as an injury replacement.

Obviously, this has pretty much no effect on hitters, except for its effect on MLB roster management. Here, we think, is why MLB teams will mostly use that 26th roster slot on a pitcher. While you gain an extra player, you now have more circumstances where you might have an injured pitcher hanging around. We noted the reduced number of IL moves above. There’s a secondary implication here, though, that if a player does hit the IL, you can be more certain that there’s a legitimate injury. This may cause some frustration among fantasy GMs, as you're now more likely to have a pitcher hang around for a week without actually pitching.

Michael Lorenzen Rule

(Michael Lorenzen is a pitcher who is also a decent hitter.)

New rule:
“Clubs will have to designate each of their players as either a pitcher or a position player prior to each player’s first day on the active roster for a given season. That designation cannot change for the remainder of the season. Position players will not be allowed to pitch except in [limited] scenarios.”

Goodness. The upshot here is that most position players will only be allowed to pitch in blowouts or extra innings. Teams may designate true two-way players if they have appeared in 20+ games as both a hitter and pitcher. The rule does not indicate how one would qualify as a two-way player if one can only pitch in garbage time. This is an interesting rule change, but it should have little effect on fantasy roster management.

Putting It All Together

To summarize the overall implications of all the changes:

  • Top players will be more valuable, as there will be more opportunities for mid-level and lower-level players to share playing time.
  • In particular, good starting pitchers with high innings pitched should see their values increase (Santana plan, anyone?).
  • Playing time overall becomes a more important factor in player evaluation
  • Fewer IL moves overall means:
    • Reduced need to stock pitchers, though it’s fringe players who will be most affected
    • Less scrambling in September to replace that guy who’s hurt but not on the IL
    • Reduced need for roster flexibility, though again, it’s a minor effect
  • Fewer innings pitched from Christopher Owings, which we all can agree is a good thing.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.