As MLB and the MLBPA continue the dreadful lockout, there has never been more curiosity for how (and to an extent when) Major League Baseball will be played. A major part of the dispute between the two sides is what different rule changes they would like to see implemented. For instance, Rob Manfred would like to enforce a pitch clock to speed up games. However, players likely won’t want this because it can mess up the rutines that they’ve come accustomed to throughout their careers. Here are three changes I would consider implementing to Major League Baseball if I was in a position to enforce them.
1. Limiting Shifts
Before I go in-depth about my way to limit shifts, I want to say that I am a big fan of teams shifting. Shifting has brought a brand new strategy to the game for both the fielding team and hitters. The problem with the shift is that it has become much much more likely for the result of an at bat to result in a walk, strikeout, or homerun. With baseball seemingly becoming less popular as the years go on, a great way to get people back into watching games is to have more balls in play. Balls in play create more opportunities for hitters to succeed, defenders to make highlight-reel plays, and more action on the basepaths – all things that excite fans. There were 180,199 total plate appearances and 55,595 shifts (30.9 shift%) by teams in 2021. This means that on average, an MLB team had approximately 37.1 plate appearances and were shifted about 11.5 times per game. To limit shifts, I would enforce a rule that limits teams to shift eight times per game and shift an individual batter a maximum of two times per game. In the event of extra innings, teams would be given the opportunity to shift a maximum of one time per inning, and the rule that an individual batter can be shifted a maximum of two times per game would still be intact. I would allow teams to shift however they would like, but the manager must alert the home plate umpire when they’re using their shifts and it would then be announced by the public address announcer to the fans. This change will increase strategy and likely increase the number of balls in play, hopefully making baseball a better and more entertaining sport to watch.
2. Changing the Postseason format
When MLB increased the postseason from eight to ten teams, the Wild Card games were also introduced. Out of all the major sporting events in the world, the Wild Card is among the biggest crapshoots. 162 games of hard work all come down to one game to advance… and face the top seed of each league’s regular season winner. While it’s certainly possible for Wild Card teams to win the World Series – like the Washington Nationals in 2019 – it’s far from an easy task. To eliminate the Wild Card, two additional teams from each league would be added to the postseason pool. Kind of like how it was in 2020, there would be a three-game series in place of the one-game Wild Card. The number one seed in each league would receive a bye from this round, the number two seeds would play the number seven seeds, the number three seeds would play the number six seeds, and the number four seeds would play the number five seeds. The lowest remaining seed that won their series would then play the number one seed, and the remaining two teams would play each other in the Division Series. The Division Series, Championship Series, and World Series would be played as they are now. In addition to eliminating the Wild Card, adding an additional four teams to the postseason would be a good thing for baseball because it should make teams more willing to win. As it stands now, 33% of teams from each league make the postseason whereas 46.67% of teams would make the postseason under this change. By increasing the number of teams that make the postseason, more teams should be trying to win in the present, which leads me to my next change.
3. Implementing a lottery to the draft
An alternate way of pushing teams to win in the present would be to introduce a payroll floor, but we’ve seen teams like the Rays and A’s win with extremely low payrolls in the past. Instead, implementing a lottery to the draft could be an interesting alternative. To give teams with the worst records in the leagues no incentive, each team that misses the postseason would have the same odds of selecting first overall through 16th overall. Like the NBA, there would be a telecast in the offseason that reveals which team will pick where in the draft. The teams that make the postseason would pick 17-30 based on when they were eliminated (or if they win the World Series) with a tie-breaker of regular season record. With the combination of an expanded postseason and no guarantees of having a top pick in the MLB draft, teams could be forced into a state of mediocrity for several years if they have a reluctance to win in the present. By increasing the number of teams that stay competitive, baseball would be in a great position to keep fans engaged, attendance up, merchandise sales up, and overall be a more competitive league.