Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: New rules for MLB season could lead to interesting results

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Baseball, kinda sorta, is back.

Major League Baseball announced last week that its teams would play a 60-game schedule with expanded playoffs. Teams would train in their home stadiums with taxi squads of players working out at nearby facilities.

Over the course of the past few days, however, I have had conversations that make me wonder if MLB teams will actually get on the field to begin playing games in late July.

States like Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania seem to have flattened the curve of the coronavirus' first wave. But states like Florida, Texas and Arizona haven't, and those states have five MLB teams.

So, ultimately, whatever we want and whatever MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wants, the virus will determine if there is going to be Major League Baseball this summer.

Having said that, if they do play, I'm pretty curious about most of the planned rules changes.

The one I am most interested seeing in action is the extra-inning potential tiebreaker. That's the rule where in the 10th inning, the visiting team would start with a runner on second base.

Now, I know that it's a rule that you only see in high school and college softball, and you say that it will cheapen games this year. So? It will be fascinating to watch the rule in effect this year.

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The rule is designed to limit marathon extra-inning games. The player who made the last out in the ninth will go to second base for the start of the 10th inning.

While the rule is designed to cut down on long games, it might not have that effect. After all, if that runner on second is the only run that scores in an inning, there could still be 14-inning marathons.

But, since it's in play, MLB should have adjusted the rule to let it start in the 11th inning. Give both teams one "regular baseball" inning to try and win the game, then go to the runner on second. That's the least they could do.

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That would be how the Futures League handles its extra innings. For those of you who are Pittsfield Suns fans, you know that the teams will play a 10th inning and then use the Home Run Derby to determine a winner. While MLB won't use the Derby — and wouldn't that be fun — give teams a chance to win under the regular extra-inning rules first. It's only right.

I'm a fan of three-batter minimums for relief pitchers and a bigger fan of rain causing suspended games.

I've been around too many team whose coaches/managers would have liked to come back and play the final three frames in a rain-stopped six-inning affair. It's an idea whose time has come.

And for the bane of my existence, the designated hitter. Welcome the DH to the National League.

I am not a fan of the designated hitter, have never been a fan of the DH in MLB, and wish it didn't happen. But I have also been a realist for a long time, and understood that sooner or later, the designated hitter would come to the NL.

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As someone who grew up watching games in the so-called Senior Circuit, the idea of sacrifice bunts, 2-for-1 switches and radical changes in batting orders because of putting pitchers into other slots in the batting order after a pinch hitter is used, make the game really fascinating. I have always wondered what a manager would do when he uses a particular pinch hitter for a pitcher, sends that hitter out onto the field, and the new pitcher would have to bat in the original player's spot in the order.

It will certainly be interesting to see how quickly National League managers adjust to using the designated hitter, how NL rosters are re-set to account for the DH, and just who will be swinging the lumber.

But since MLB has decided to use what folks are calling a "high school rule" to break ties, how about we use the high school DH rule? The designated hitter can swing for anyone in the lineup.

We see that in high school baseball all the time because in most cases, a high school pitcher is also one of the team's best hitters. But how about a .125-hitting shortstop with a great glove, could he be hit for instead? Pitchers don't hit well at all, but did that shortstop hit well? If the rule is going to be used, let's go all in this year.

So, if the curve is flattened enough, we'll see curves being thrown at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field.

Even with the rules changes for 2020, that's good enough for me.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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