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A 26 man roster is an improvement, but is MLB making a mistake not keeping 28?


The world of sports has changed over the years. As a result, leagues have adapted roster sizes to allow for more active players, reserve players, taxi squads, etc. Baseball, always slow to adapt, finally increased roster size to 26 in 2020. A small change a small improvement, but a smart and necessary one. With covid, the plan originally for a 30 man roster, followed by a downgrade to 28 before finally settling to the proposed 26 man limit. For once, MLB was out front with adaptation and realized the 28 man roster made sense for the compact season.

 

So now, with an expected full schedule for 2021, the 26 man roster is in play. But is that a mistake of short-sightedness?

 

As a fan, I want my team to have a deep and stacked roster. I want more good players available. But beyond that, the 28 man roster actually WORKED in 2020. Further, we've heard concerns about pitchers working an entire season following a season with limited innings pitched. There has been some talk about teams going with a 6 man rotation. Is this an over-reaction without merit? Or are there legs to this arguement?

 

Should MLB adapt yet again post 2020 and return to the 28 man roster? Or even 27? A 28 man roster could, potentially, allow for a straight 14/14 pitcher/player roster. A 27 man roster, potentially again, could allow for a 13/13 split with the 27th man going to either spot.

 

Is MLB making a mistake with the 26 man roster?

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If you are one that is concerned with the ugly strikeout numbers (more K’s than hits for the first time in history...3 years running now), the ever-growing length of games, and the alarming deceleration in frequency of balls in play and baserunners...then SMALLER rosters are the answer, not larger. All larger rosters will do is encourage more specialization with regard to how pitchers are used to neutralize hitting, further accelerating the trend toward power as the one and only viable offensive strategy.

 

Would the quality of play in the NBA be (even) better if each team had an active roster of 18 and could replace offensive specialists with defensive specialists at every change of possession? Would it be a better game or better entertainment? Hyperbole a bit, but seems kinda something similar to direction MLB is wandering.

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I'm good with 25-27. But I think more off-days and a 154 game schedule would solve more of the games issues.

 

Simply put, they aren't going to use prospects on the bench. More roster slots means more RP. It might help some service time issues and even preserve some careers but it won't improve the underlying quality.

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They way I see it, as things are structured, larger rosters only gives an advantage to large market clubs.

 

They’d be willing to pay players that may be a marginal bullpen guy or utility guy. Small market teams will use AAAA guys, at best, from their system (most small market teams use a fair amount of those guys on their roster already). Over the course of a 162 season, deeper teams will simply outlast the others. We already see that. It would only get slightly worse.

 

There are enough issues with parity in the MLB as it is. They need to come up with something that helps smaller markets be competitive, aside from a one year blip, or a semi- prolonged run of mediocrity (see the Twins playoff losing streak).

 

Look at the NBA right now. Rating are plummeting. Nobody cares, unless you happen to be a fan of a super team (Which, let’s be honest, nobody is really an NBA fan). That league is a complete joke. KFAN just did a bit on the number of teams that rank as the worst winning percentage of any pro sport - the T-Wolves are the worst, and the other 9 of 10 (estimation) are other NBA franchises. The same teams win year after year. Awful business model. They’re running that league into the ground.

 

It’s already hard enough being a Twins’ fan knowing, realistically, that they have no shot at a World Series.

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I'm fine with 26, actually prefer it to 28... with the stipulation that there is a 13 pitcher cap (not in place this season) and the call up/down rules are less lenient to playing AAAA ping pong with players (hopefully coming in the upcoming CBA).

 

So, since neither one of those things exist this season... I guess I don't care? I'm just not happy with MLB's unresponsiveness to modern "advancement" of the game that has largely been a detriment to the spectating experience. Pitching specialists and watching five pitchers a game per team is just one of many things that make the sport less fun to watch.

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I'm fine with 26, actually prefer it to 28... with the stipulation that there is a 13 pitcher cap (not in place this season) and the call up/down rules are less lenient to playing AAAA ping pong with players (hopefully coming in the upcoming CBA).

Good point. National League teams now carry 24, 25, 26 pitcher on the 40-man. (My lord, how did we get here?) American League not much better. And you can bet every team will make a point of churning the bottom halves year-to-year to make sure they have plenty with options remaining. Options are currently more valued on the bottom of the 40-man than is mlb experience, if not ability. But who cares if they have one mlb quality pitch, because they’ll never be asked to pitch more than one inning, if that, in a competitive game given that this game can be played to maintain 8, 9, (10 coming soon) relievers on the active roster. The current optioning rules are absolutely being gamed and are definitely part of the problem.

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Good point. National League teams now carry 24, 25, 26 pitcher on the 40-man. (My lord, how did we get here?) American League not much better. And you can bet every team will make a point of churning the bottom halves year-to-year to make sure they have plenty with options remaining. Options are currently more valued on the bottom of the 40-man than is mlb experience, if not ability. But who cares if they have one mlb quality pitch, because they’ll never be asked to pitch more than one inning, if that, in a competitive game given that this game can be played to maintain 8, 9, (10 coming soon) relievers on the active roster. The current optioning rules are absolutely being gamed and are definitely part of the problem.

I don't fault teams for doing it, as it's within the rules and gives an advantage over a long, grueling 162 game season.

 

But also, just change the damned rules. If loopholes are found and exploited, close them. MLB has been terrifically awful at adapting to the changes in the game that have made the sport a worse spectating experience over the past 10-15 years.

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I remember waaaay back when they had expanded rosters to start the season. It was 1966 and roster were set at 28 until May 15th. The Twins traded Russ Nixon to the Red Sox for second baseman Chuck Schilling. Schilling never got in one game, and was sent to the minors, but just retired instead.

 

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Dropping in to make a couple comments.

 

Thank you for comments/opinions thus far. I was honestly afraid this was a post 2020/still relevant 2021 thought and pending CBA idea that might get swiped under the couch with the exuberance of ST.

 

I disagree that roster size does anything to lengthen games. Baseball has been on a 3hr clip for years now. Ironically, the same time table as an NFL game. Whether you like it or not, limited bullpen subsition can only keep the game more interesting.

 

Full league acceptance of the DH, which seems inevitable, should provide more offense, more excitement, more game drama, but lend the roster to have more flexibility. (Sorry for purists, but it is natural progression).

 

I disagree that high market teams will have an advantage, though I appreciate the sentiment. An expanded roster might, instead, allow for a smaller market team to play "old school" ball and build a roster of platoons or have a bench that drives other teams nuts.

 

Look, I grew up with 200 IP SP and 20-25HR being a benchmark. But that's not the reality any longer. I also grew up in a time where if you didn't have an NFL RB who could churn out a 1,000 yard season plus you were toast.

 

But sports have changed. MLB is SLOW to adapt and change. We know this. And maybe a reviluttionist way of thinking with a 25 man roster is the way to go. Maybe not. But I think this arguement is worth having and I appreciate each and every opinion presented.

 

I just tossed out a few more thoughts to reflect on.

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More roster spots would only further the divide between good teams and bad teams.

 

A Terry Ryan-style team would add a couple of AAA guys to the roster.

A Steinbrenner-style team would add proven performers close to their primes.

 

 

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I disagree that roster size does anything to lengthen games. Baseball has been on a 3hr clip for years now. Ironically, the same time table as an NFL game. Whether you like it or not, limited bullpen subsition can only keep the game more interesting.

I don't know how much roster size influences game length but games continue to get longer almost every year. Game length isn't stagnant and hasn't been for some time.

 

The average game length in 2010 was 15 minutes shorter than 2019.

 

https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/misc.shtml

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Is the 26 man roster permanent or it is just a stop gap for this year because the pitchers won't be throwing as many issues after last year's short season? I guess the next CBA will tell us but I'm curious if anyone knows the deal here. I'm ok with a 26 man roster as long as the pitching staff is limited to 13 and we keep in the rule that pitchers must pitch to 3 hitters or finish an inning. The over specialization of relief pitching is one of the main culprits in making the game less interesting in my humble opinion. Us baseball nerds might like the strategy component but the general public is just not warming up to the constant pitching changes and 3 to 3.5 hour games that the constant BP changes cause. So to me the key isn't the roster size, it's pitching limitations. 

 

They had already established that rosters would be 26 until Spetember when you could go to 28 starting with 2020 before the pandemic. Unfortunatley after making a 13 pitcher max, they've now decided not to limit it.

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They had already established that rosters would be 26 until Spetember when you could go to 28 starting with 2020 before the pandemic. Unfortunatley after making a 13 pitcher max, they've now decided not to limit it.

Teams could very easily get around it anyway. All they have to do is list a pitcher as an outfielder on the roster.

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Teams could very easily get around it anyway. All they have to do is list a pitcher as an outfielder on the roster.

 

I think the league office would deny that in a heartbeat. The plan was to allow one 2 way player, to be designated as such, that would not be counted among pitchers. But they also know who really could be considered in that spot. So no sneaking Randy Dobnak through there.

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I don't know how much roster size influences game length but games continue to get longer almost every year. Game length isn't stagnant and hasn't been for some time.

The average game length in 2010 was 15 minutes shorter than 2019. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/misc.shtml

Caught a recent interview from Mike Greenburg with Bob Costas on the way home today. Costas brought up 2 interesting points/ideas that he shares with I want to say Tom Verducci:

 

1] The average time between pitches in today's ML climate is 23 seconds. That's just crazy to me. His idea is simple, no runners on base, a pitch clock between each offering should be in affect.

 

Again, just my opinion, but I'm not sure there is more mid-inning replacement of relievers. More used in a game these days to be sure. But with the 3 batter/finish an inning rule in place I think that helps the pace and excitement of the game. The days of a LOOGY are basically over.

 

2] Costas also went on to say that he things the extreme amount of defensive shifting of infields is damaging the game. He believes shifting/alignment should still force a team to keep 2 men on either side of the infield. Crowding someone near 2B would be OK. Bringing in an OF...in an extreme clutch situation, especially extra innings...to be an extra infielder would also be acceptable, but no more 3 men loaded to one side of the infield.

 

I thought both points have real merit and I find myself intrigued by the shifting limitations for sure.

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1] The average time between pitches in today's ML climate is 23 seconds. That's just crazy to me. His idea is simple, no runners on base, a pitch clock between each offering should be in affect.

It's not all on the pitcher. I'm OK with a pitch clock when there are no baserunners but if that is instituted there also has to be some way of keeping the batter in the box ready to hit.

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2] Costas also went on to say that he things the extreme amount of defensive shifting of infields is damaging the game. He believes shifting/alignment should still force a team to keep 2 men on either side of the infield. Crowding someone near 2B would be OK. Bringing in an OF...in an extreme clutch situation, especially extra innings...to be an extra infielder would also be acceptable, but no more 3 men loaded to one side of the infield.

I try to remind myself not to follow thread-jacks when offered, but it was your thread in the first place, so I accept. :)

 

I'm with you on the pitch clock (I think it's self-evident and I'd be even more aggressive than you propose), but on shifts I'm concerned with unintended consequences and difficulty in enforcement. It's akin to a zone defense in other sports, and attempts to outlaw that lead to sequences of ever-finer distinctions and judgement calls. There are other ways for the offense to defeat the shift in baseball, let them adapt.

 

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8quote name="ashbury" post="1015381" timestamp="1615075785"]I try to remind myself not to follow thread-jacks when offered, but it was your thread in the first place, so I accept. :)

 

I'm with you on the pitch clock (I think it's self-evident and I'd be even more agressive than you propose), but on this one I'm concerned with the unintended consequences and difficulty in enforcement. It's akin to a zone defense in other sports, and attempts to outlaw those lead  to edge-cases and judgement calls. There are other ways for the offense to defeat the shift in baseball, let them adapt.

 

Thank you for recognizing a self-imposed thread Jack, LOL. NOT my intention! But some have claimed less is better going back to my original OP, and I disagree.

 

The length of games played has been increasing for years now with a 25 man roster. We've had ONE YEAR of an expanded roster. So getting things back on track, how does an expanded roster further extend games? There are mkre and more commercial breaks, and that's not going to change. We add an extra song in the 7th inning. Not saying that's bad but it lengthens the game. It's what happens on the field that needs to change.

 

I'm a very young 55yo, but I've seen changes in all sports. Gone are the days in the NFL of 40 man rosters and 14G seasons that were built on ground and pound. I still remember early 80's even, if not mistaken, when there was no 3 point line. So no #2 hitter in baseball hitting .245 because he had bat control and bunt your 30+ SB guy at leadoff has also changed. A dozen or more complete games from your #1 SP has also changed. Bullpen usage is up. But I would argue that most of those RP actually begin an inning rather than come in mid-inning. Recent rule changes have taken away the traditional LOOGY and forced teams to play to 3 batters or the end of the inning. I like that rule.

 

The days of a 10-11 man staff are over. And that shortens the bench, as well as any platoon or PH options. A full time DH in both leagues is inevitable. Again, potentially shortening benches even more. The 26 man roster is a step in the right direction. It provides greater depth for moves. But can we just acknowledge that the game has changed, baseball is slow to change and adapt, and that the 28 man roster actually WORKED well last year? Do we want to argue we had a larger roster due to a sprint and so few days off? Well, most teams play 6 days a week during a "normal" season, so what is the difference?

 

If you really have a hard time with RP coming in, cap the roster of pitchers at 13 like 2020, or maybe 14. Potentially, an even or almost even split.

 

To your points directly, Ash, I could agree being more aggressive with the pitch clock. But 20 seconds with nobody on base should be mandatory, IMO.

 

In regard to enforcing defensive changes, I can appreciate your notion of "letting them adjust". In fact, I believe at some point someone is going to drive everyone nuts with situational hitting and SB again and things will adjust accordingly. Scars and HR may be sexy, and the chicks may dig both, LOL, but adjustments will be made. But they will never change back fully. It's the fluidity of sports.

 

In the NBA...when they enforce it...there are still violations of things like time in the paint. In the NFL, there are still formation penalties. What's wrong with a SS or 2B still being on their side of the field? That's not bard to enforce.

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Tough question. I would like more position players on the bench, as in the old days, but with the current practice of changing pitchers every other batter that has become impractical. Increasing the active roster doesn't help unless you are also limiting the pitching staff. Limiting the pitching staff would also shorten the games. But then, I'm the guy who, in the old days, showed up at 11:00 for a 1:10 game and watched both teams take batting practice, and who loved having a double header run from noon till after midnight. Ok, didn't need to say that, but I wanted to get it in. Being able to shift players from the minors to the show and back again so quickly is a problem. It is sort of like having a grossly expanded roster that doesn't work during the games and since it mostly impacts the pitching staff also exacerbates the perceived problem of long game times with endless pitching changes and new guys coming up tomorrow to continue the practice. Maybe they should just go back to the higher mound. :-)

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We can theorize all we want, but Brock posted a link that has the data.

 

You can sort this by two columns, pitchers used/game and time/game. The two data points match up almost exactly, and not just recently -- throughout baseball history.

 

I would add that the when 100% of games became televised in the 1980s, ~10 minutes were added right to the top. I would argue that TV has slowly added more advertising as the years went on, most likely grabbing more time during pitching changes.

 

We focus on pitch clocks in these conversations, but that's not the issue. Thus, it won't fix the issue.

 

It's worth noting that last year's rules to call some games before 9 innings and force pitchers to face three batters made no difference.

 

It we want a pitch clock, it should be to limit the number of warmup pitches a relief pitcher gets on the mound. I don't know how much time it takes them to throw the dozen or so pitches they are allotted now, but if it's more than 2-3 minutes, let's start there. Nine times out of ten, the pitcher has been tossing for half an inning before they come in the game anyway.

 

Or, we can stop timing the games and not worry about it. Attendance is high. Payroll is high. Income is high. Television contracts are high. Why do we really care? Who is being hurt by baseball games lasting 3 hours instead of 2 hours and 50 minutes?

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We can theorize all we want, but Brock posted a link that has the data.

 

You can sort this by two columns, pitchers used/game and time/game. The two data points match up almost exactly, and not just recently -- throughout baseball history.

 

I would add that the when 100% of games became televised in the 1980s, ~10 minutes were added right to the top. I would argue that TV has slowly added more advertising as the years went on, most likely grabbing more time during pitching changes.

 

We focus on pitch clocks in these conversations, but that's not the issue. Thus, it won't fix the issue.

 

It's worth noting that last year's rules to call some games before 9 innings and force pitchers to face three batters made no difference.

 

It we want a pitch clock, it should be to limit the number of warmup pitches a relief pitcher gets on the mound. I don't know how much time it takes them to throw the dozen or so pitches they are allotted now, but if it's more than 2-3 minutes, let's start there. Nine times out of ten, the pitcher has been tossing for half an inning before they come in the game anyway.

 

Or, we can stop timing the games and not worry about it. Attendance is high. Payroll is high. Income is high. Television contracts are high. Why do we really care? Who is being hurt by baseball games lasting 3 hours instead of 2 hours and 50 minutes?

I agree with a lot of your points here but disagree that a single solution is the silver bullet. I believe a combination of things need to happen to trim down game times because the game itself has changed.

 

For example, it's going to be hard, if not impossible to walk back the fact that batters take more pitches per plate appearance in today's game. Over the past 20 years, the gain has been .25 pitches per PA. In just one game, that adds up to an additional 20-25 pitches thrown. That's several minutes of game time by itself.

 

Here's what I'd like to see happen:

 

1. Pitch clock. There's no reason to roam circles around the mound or adjust your damned batting gloves every pitch. It's not strategy, it's ****ing boring. I can't count how many times I've turned off a game simply because the pitcher was being a slug on the mound, throwing two pitches a minute and making me yearn for a channel where I could watch paint dry.

 

2. Three batter minimum. Pitchers should be encouraged to finish an inning and forced to finish if encouragement doesn't work.

 

3. Restrict the shift. No infielder can cross second base. No outfielder can leave their OF zone (L, C, R, divided into thirds). That still allows for plenty of movement and adjustment, it only kills stacking one side of the field and killing BABIP in the process.

 

Will this reduce game length? I don't know and while it'd be nice to shorten games, what's more important is to make the game less boring than it is right now. And putting the ball in play for a hit, throwing pitches more often, and reducing the number of times a game grinds to a halt for a pitching change makes it a better spectator experience. We can't do anything about the pitches per PA so work around it. If MLB does a good enough job of encouraging balls in play, we might even see a reduction in pitches per PA, speeding up the game even more.

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I think these three and 4 man benches are ridiculous and not what baseball should settle for. I’ve always been a strict 25 man roster guy but with team employing more and more pitchers, it doesn’t work anymore. When Gene Mauch managed the Twins he would use a deep bench. That was a better game. Therefor I’d be in favor of 28 so realistic benches could return.

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