NL West managers were in favor of MLB's new, controversial 2020 rules

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Alex Pavlovic
·5 min read
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NL West managers were on board with some 2020 MLB changes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

In 2019, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo called for left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin 77 times. In 25 of those games, Lovullo pulled Chafin after just one batter, with five of the outings lasting just one pitch.

Chafin was the poster boy for the three-batter minimum rule change, so you would think it's a rule Lovullo would be campaigning against every offseason.

But a funny thing happened during a 60-game season played with some new and controversial rules. 

"There was a lot more thought that went into that, and that became more challenging as the year went on, but it's something I really enjoyed," Lovullo said of the three-batter minimum last week. 

The Diamondbacks manager isn't alone. For all the grumbling over the universal DH, seven-inning doubleheaders, extra-inning changes and three-batter minimum, it seems that most MLB managers actually got on board with the new rules, which will make it much easier for commissioner Rob Manfred to keep them in place.

Most of the new rules were supposed to be one-year changes as MLB tried to shorten games and limit the amount of time players and staffers spent at the ballpark. Or, that's what they said publicly. Putting a runner on second in extra innings might have saved each team a few hours over the course of 60 games, but it's a drop in the bucket. Still, that rule, a controversial addition, seems likely to be back at some point, possibly in 2021. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if that gets maintained beyond this year because my sense is it's been really successful and popular in the minor leagues," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on opening day.

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Sixty games later, the managers he faces most often seemed to agree. 

"The extra-inning rule, I think we did it a couple of times and it worked out," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think that for the purpose that it served for 2020, I still think that it can be a benefit going forward."

Managers have grown to love it because of what it means for the following days. They're not altering rotations or calling up a fresh relief arm because a game went 17 innings. 

"I know the extra-inning feature was something that was very intriguing and exciting and led to some quick and rapid endings," Lovullo said. "I think that's something a lot of people are in favor of, so you don't blow up your entire team for the next day or perhaps the next series and have to make an assortment of moves to reload. That's something that Major League Baseball is looking at very closely and something that I really enjoyed walking through in 2020."

Yahoo's Tim Brown asked managers about the new rules on Zoom calls set up last week in place of the winter meetings press conferences, and he found overwhelming support for the changes

There was some pushback on the seven-inning doubleheaders, but the ones that get more public conversation seem to have the backing of most of MLB's 30 managers. Like Lovullo, Roberts said he thought he would hate the three-batter minimum but found that it actually added more strategy. Managers had to figure out which pockets they could use their specialists in instead of just saving their best lefty for one at-bat they could see coming two or three innings away. 

"Walking into the season I thought that would be a little bit of a challenge for me personally because I really enjoyed using a left-handed specialist," Lovullo said. "The part of the three-batter minimum that I enjoyed most was that there were so many different strategic components to it. It wasn't just that you're bringing in three guys, you had to figure out who your targets were and you were going to have to bite the bullet on some matchup that wasn't going to be favorable."

The Giants didn't seem to mind that one, and while they went 2-3 in extra-inning games and had their issues in seven-inning doubleheaders, players seemed to enjoy the shorter games. MLB has not yet provided clarity on which changes will stay, including the big one. The universal DH seems a lock to be put into place with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, but teams have been told to prepare as if 2021 will be played with pitchers taking at-bats

Roberts said he always preferred the "old school" way with pitchers hitting, but when given a DH, he "really liked it." Giants manager Gabe Kapler has been asked a couple of times this offseason, and while he's also an old-school guy at heart, he didn't hate the rule change.

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"I enjoyed having the DH to work with," he said. "We benefited from time to time from getting guys off their feet. (Wilmer) Flores comes to mind, (Alex) Dickerson comes to mind, and even to some degree some of our veteran players -- just being able to know that that was there gave us some strategic comfort. 

"I also enjoy National League play without the DH. I think it adds an interesting element or component to the game, thinking you know when the right time is to pinch-hit for a pitcher and take him out of the game."

Kapler said he's fine with both ways and will work with whichever rule he's given. If Manfred was listening to MLB managers last week, you can bet he'll keep pushing the boundaries.