It's quite clear MLB's 2020 season is unlike any other, what with a 60-game schedule, no fans in attendance and numerous modifications to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which stopped the game -- and so much else -- in its tracks in March.
Beyond all that, baseball is being played in 2020 under some significant rule changes, impacting everything from play on the field to roster size and, of course, social distancing. Here are some things that look very different.
It all started with Ron Blomberg in 1973, when the American League introduced the designated hitter, and 47 years later, the DH will be added to the National League as well. (NL teams have used a DH when playing in AL parks since interleague play was instituted in 1997.) The change officially is for 2020 only, although it would not be shocking if the move became permanent.
National League pitchers hit .131 with a .329 OPS last year, so we should see a bump in overall scoring. The Cubs' Kyle Schwarber has been something of a poster boy for NL players who should get significant at-bats at DH, with the Mets' Yoenis Cespedes and Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna others who could benefit. But the thinking is that most NL teams primarily will use the spot to rotate players in and out of the lineup for extra rest.
Extra innings start with runner on second base
In an effort to keep extra-inning games from dragging on, every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base, a rule that has been in effect in the minor leagues for the past two seasons. The rule, which will be in place for only the regular season, has served its purpose in the minors. Over the past two years, minor league games that went to extra innings ended in the 10th inning 73% of the time and within two extra innings 93% of the time, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. (The numbers were 49% and 74% in 2017, the year before the rule was implemented.)
In 2019, 208 of 2,429 MLB games (9%) went to extra innings. Of those extra-inning games, 44% ended in 10 innings, 72% ended within two extra innings, and 28% went 12 or more innings.
The designated runner on second would be the player who made the final out in the prior half-inning (unless it was a pitcher, in which case it would be the previous batter). The pitcher would not be charged with an earned run if that runner scores; it would be scored as if that runner reached via error.
The attempt to limit the length of extra-inning games should help preserve pitchers during the compressed schedule, although this idea had been floated by commissioner Rob Manfred prior to the pandemic as a way of shortening the time of play. With the season already having its quirks, it seems like a reasonable time to give this a try.
It's easy to forget, but this rule was set to be implemented before COVID-19. Pitchers must face either a minimum of three batters or complete a half-inning, a switch pushed by Manfred with an eye toward quickening the pace of play and shortening games by reducing the number of in-game pitching changes.
60-man roster/taxi squad
Before its first game, each team will announce a 30-man roster, which will be cut down to 28 players after two weeks, then 26 after four weeks. The remaining players who had been part of the team's original 60-man pool will be sent to an alternate site for workouts and training.
Teams will be able to carry up to three taxi-squad players on the road so replacements will be readily available in case of illness or injury. (If a team carries three players on its taxi squad, one must be a catcher.) Stays on the injured list will be for a minimum of 10 days for both pitchers and hitters, and the 60-day IL will be reduced to 45 days.
A rule to limit the use of position players as pitchers that had been scheduled to be implemented this season won't be used in 2020.
Health and safety
• Team personnel and players not likely to participate in the game (for example, the next day's starting pitcher) will sit in the stands or another area designated by the club, at least six feet apart. Teams have erected tents and similar coverings in the stands to create makeshift dugouts for this purpose.
• Non-playing personnel will wear masks in the dugout and bullpen at all times.
• "Celebratory contact" (high-fives, fist bumps and hugs, for example) is prohibited.
• Spitting is prohibited, so no sunflower seeds or chewing tobacco, although gum is permitted.
• Pitchers will be permitted to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture, rather than licking their fingers.
• Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field, so disputes with umpires or between members of opposing teams must be conducted at a distance of at least six feet. Violators will be subject to immediate ejection and further discipline.
The trade deadline will be Aug. 31 and a player must be on a team's MLB roster by Sept. 15 to be eligible for the playoffs.
If weather forces a game to be cut short before it is official, it will be continued at a later date rather than started from scratch.