MLB is discussing a plan to expand rosters but require that the game roster remains at 25. Basically something similar to what the NHL does, where four or five guys simply don’t dress for the game.
This has been talked about for years as a solution to the September call-up conundrum, where they want to give a look for minor league players but they don’t want to kill the momentum of games with endless pitching changes and lineup moves. But now, they are talking the entire season.
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that they expand rosters to 29, an additional 4 spots.
The most obvious thing that would happen would be that the starting rotation would only be on the roster the day they start. No one even has to think about that one.
Most managers would probably carry an extra bench player, most likely a pinch hitter with a lot of power. In some cases, where a team has two catchers that can hit, an extra backup catcher would probably be on board.
And the rest of the spots would go to bullpen, right? They would have to. Every team would have 15 man bullpens!
The most obvious thing is that there would be a lot more pitching changes. You would have a lot more specialists that come in for one or two batters. You would probably see starting pitchers getting pulled with a lead even earlier in games. Only a handful of pitchers, and only on their good nights, would face the middle of a lineup a third time.
Hell, you might even see managers have a designated ‘starter’ from the bullpen. Like a closer but starting a game. Why would you do that? Well, every team stacks their lineup to score in the first inning. A ton of scoring happens in the first inning. Starting pitchers often get lit up before they are in their groove. So why not let them slip into their groove against the bottom half of the lineup instead of the top?
The rotation guys would probably be moved to innings 3-7, while a starter opens the first two innings, and the set up and closer finish the game off.
I think it is almost inevitable that something like this happens if the rosters expand. It might be inevitable anyway.
Baseball is a slow moving organism, it has a tough time adapting. But all it really takes is for one manager to try something new and have success with it. Bullpen use was practically not thought about, and barely strategized until Sparky Anderson in the 70’s won a couple of World Series. Defensive shifting had been in use for a hundred years but never fully adopted until Joe Maddon had sustained success on a $40M payroll in the NL East. No one believed that striking out more was worth hitting for power, I think we know how that one ended. No one talks about Ruth leading the league in strikeouts almost every year of his career anymore, do they?
Just one manager will take a mediocre pitching staff to the Series by using an ‘opening’ and staffing a 15 man bullpen and that will become the new norm.
Personally, I hate the idea. And I think the best way to solve the problem with September call-ups is to eliminate them. It is no longer necessary for the big league club to see a prospect in person, we have hours and hours of video for that. 25 players is just about perfect.
Let’s not forget pitching changes are just about the most boring things in sports.