In order to get the 2020 MLB season in the air, both the league and players had to agree to a series of new rules. Some of them, like expanded playoffs, are meant to recoup some of the lost revenue for owners, while rules like the runner on second in extra innings are meant to cut down on long games, saving wear and tear on players.
Overall, the rules have had mixed results - some of them I very much want to see carry over into “normal” baseball, and some I’ll be happy to never see again. But which of the rules would actually help the Yankees, from a strategic and tactical standpoint?
The Yankees have played in seven doubleheaders so far in 2020, after sweeping the Orioles on Friday. The team is .500, 7-7, in those 14 games. I think the seven-inning rule has been a strange one - when the Yankees are leading, I like it a lot, but when they’re losing, I think it’s the most unfair rule on the books.
For the team, though, I think they would prefer to play traditional, nine-inning affairs going forward. When healthy, the Yankees have one of the deepest, and most powerful, lineups in baseball, meaning it’s really hard for them to ever be “out” of a game. At full strength - which I know is asking a lot - a hitter like Miguel Andújar is hitting seventh or eighth in the lineup, so no lead is ever insurmountable as long as the team has a full nine innings. Conversely, the Yankees’ bullpen is usually strong and deep enough to cover the marginal inning.
Full-Time Designated Hitter
This doesn’t really affect the Yankees beyond not making their pitchers hit in interleague play. The team’s had problems with that exact thing - Masahiro Tanaka hurt himself at Citi Field, and Chien-Ming Wang’s career was thrown off course after getting hurt at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Hard to believe the Yankees wouldn’t be in favor of a universal DH, if only to lower the risk of pitcher injuries.
Extra Innings Rule
Possibly the most controversial of the new rules, I’m personally torn. I love the rule in general, I think it adds a level of tension and strategy to the game that just doesn’t exist in “regular” baseball. It forces the visiting team to be aggressive - you’ve got to try and score more than one run - and depending on the “luck” of your batting order, you can start the inning with Tyler Wade at second, or Gary Sánchez. Add all that to the general chaos that seems to permeate extra innings this year, and I am all on board keeping it around.
Players, particularly pitchers, seem to disagree with me. Clayton Kershaw hates the rule, and several Yankee relievers spoke out against it in summer camp. Funny enough, the team is 4-1 in extra inning games this year, but you can’t expect five games to make a difference in the minds of players.
Similar to the seven inning doubleheader, you’d expect the Yankees to be able to handle the extra innings rule fairly well. A strong offense paired with a strong bullpen means they’re likely to outscore opponents in the later stages of the game - the Yankees are more likely than most to bring the runner home, and hard-throwing, heavy strikeout relief pitchers in their bullpen are well-suited for pitching in a time when contact can hurt you. Still, if players are fundamentally opposed to the rule, that could introduce a level of uncertainty to performance over 162 games.
The opposite of the above rule, I absolutely hate expanded playoffs. The Houston Astros are below .500 at press time, and the sixth seed, two above the Yankees. The best thing Bud Selig ever did as commissioner was the introduction of the sudden-death Wild Card Game, and expanding the playoffs does away with what’s often the highest-stake, highest-tension game of the year. Rewarding mediocrity and excising tension from the season isn’t what the goal of MLB should be.
But the owners are going to make their money off playoff TV revenues, and competitively, the expanded playoffs help the Yankees maybe more than any other team save, again, those Astros. The AL East race is all but over, and if the traditional playoff system were in place, the Yankees would be staring up at both the Blue Jays and Cleveland for the final Wild Card slot. Instead, while they’re still in a dogfight at the bottom of the standings, you have to like the chances of the team should they return a full lineup.
Overall, it’s been interesting how quickly we all got used to the new rules. I don’t imagine anyone has really complained about a universal DH, and even if you’ve disliked the extra innings rule, once you watch enough games you kind of just go with the flow. If MLB tries to shoehorn all of these rules into 2021, that’d be an annoying use of authority, especially when some of the problems with the game’s pace could be solved through simpler, less subtle means. Still, the Yankees have surprisingly benefited from the rule changes, even if we don’t necessarily like them.