Stay, Go or Change? Delivering a Verdict on 2020's Rule Changes

After seeing how baseball changed this year, it's time to decide how we want it to look in 2021.
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Baseball changed in ways it never had before this year. A National League DH. A free runner gifted to teams in extra innings. A playoff pool that included (almost) every team, seemingly. As we hold out hope 2021 will resemble something closer to a "normal" world, it's time to decide if this year's rule changes should stick around, go away entirely or be tweaked a little bit. SI's MLB experts have their verdicts.

Tom Verducci

Universal DH: Go. I already miss National League baseball. A less strategic and more homogenous game is a more boring game.

Free runner in extra innings: Stay. I like how this introduces strategy and anticipation in a game that keeps getting down to a very static, less stimulating game.

Tweak: In the 10th inning, re-set both lineups to the top of the order. (No. 9 hitter is the runner.) That way, as in the first inning, neither team has an advantage. And fans win! You get to see the best players decide the game. It also helps viewers stick around, knowing that in a tie game you will see Trout, Betts, Tatis, Judge, etc. come to the plate.

Expanded playoffs: Change. Yes to expanding the playoffs, but no to eight in each league. I could be on board with six or possibly seven.

Stephanie Apstein

Universal DH: Go. I'm fighting a losing battle here, but I love that the leagues are different. It's so weird and dumb. We spend enough of our time fighting weirdness and dumbness in real life; let's celebrate those qualities in sports.

Free runner in extra innings: Go. The pace-of-play concerns are reasonable, but no one is complaining about innings 10 and beyond. If a game gets that far, it's been close and probably good. Let's focus on speeding up innings one through nine.

Expanded playoffs: Go. If you can make the postseason by winning 80 games, why would you ever bother to try to win 100? This is a scourge and we need to get rid of it. If anything they should contract the playoffs and give teams an incentive to try.

Runner dashing home

Emma Baccellieri

Universal DH: Stay. Even before all the chaos of this year, I’d been expecting this one to get implemented sooner rather than later, and 2020 only sped that process up. I will say that I was surprised by how little I noticed it—I thought I’d feel a little nostalgic for pitchers hitting, but I didn’t, not at all.

Free runner in extra innings: Change. I was not particularly expecting to enjoy this one. But it was less disruptive than I had guessed it might be, and by the end of the season, I’d come around to it. I do have one tweak, though—wait to introduce it until the 12th, rather than right away in the 10th, to up the stakes by reserving it only for the handful of games that go that far.

Expanded playoffs: Go. For 2020, I was fine with it. But for full seasons going forward, I think expanded playoffs would seriously skew the incentives for teams in a damaging way, unless there are some real changes made to the model.

Connor Grossman

Universal DH: Stay. As unscientific and anecdotal as it may seem, I didn't really notice this change in 2020. Therefore it should stay. Sorry, pitchers. Maybe they'll still let you take BP.

Free runner in extra innings: Stay. I loved this and I don't care who knows. Keep it in October. Keep it in the World Series. Keep it forever. (But also run with Tom's suggestion of re-setting the lineups in the 10th.)

Expanded playoffs: Change. There were too many playoff games this year. Maybe it was the lack of fans that failed to draw me into Cubs-Marlins on a weekday afternoon. Regardless, the saturation point was reached. 

Keep it at 10 teams and preserve the wild-card game. (Or if you want to expand it to 14 teams, force the eight wild-card teams to win two one-game playoffs to reach the Division Series).

Will Laws

Universal DH: Stay. NL teams are at a sizable disadvantage without it.

Free runner in extra innings: Stay. Added a strategic wrinkle, increased tension, saved bullpens and shortened games. What’s not to like?

Expanded playoffs: Tweak. Watching eight playoff games in a day was great fun, and the Astros’ run would’ve been too if it were any other team. But after a full season, there’s no need to let in losing teams, or even mediocre ones. Allow 12 teams in, with the three-game wild-card round sticking around, which seems like a fair compromise.

Freddie Freeman

Matt Martell

Universal DH: Stay. Baseball needs uniformity in both leagues. Personally, I like the strategy that comes with pitchers hitting, but once you have the designated hitter you can't go back. Plus, at a time when it's hard for veteran bats to get contracts, the universal DH is an easy way to get a few players jobs.

Free runner in extra innings: Stay. I really enjoyed the tension of beginning extra innings with a runner on second. There's additional strategy that comes into play, even if few teams actually sac-bunted the runner to third base. One thing to make clear: The extra-innings rule should be the exact same as it was this year, meaning it goes back to the traditional format in the postseason. Free runner in the regular season, but not in the playoffs.

Expanded playoffs: Change. I loved the chaos of eight playoff games in a single day. The March Madness appeal is fun and a great way to grow the game. However, instead of having two teams from each division making the playoffs, it should be three division winners and five wild-card teams. Over a full 162-game season, that would hopefully make it almost impossible for a losing team to have a shot at winning the World Series.

Nick Selbe

Universal DH: Stay. This move has been a long time coming, and the overall product on the field was improved by not forcing fans to watch pitchers flail around a few times per game. For every majestic Bartolo Colon home run moment, there are hundreds of feeble at-bats.

Free runner in extra innings: Go. There was justification to implement this rule in 2020, as marathon extra-innings games put added stress on pitching staffs that did not have the benefit of a normal ramp-up time in spring training. The result was quite fun, and I wouldn't hate it if this rule stuck around, but reverting back to the way things were would be preferable.

Expanded playoffs: Go. Letting one-third of teams into the postseason field just feels like the right number. At the very least, I think most would agree that 16 teams is too many, devaluing the marathon-like nature of a typical 162-game season. Here's hoping that MLB is able to get that many games in for 2021, and the playoff field resets to its usual state.

Michael Shapiro

Universal DH: Stay. It's always a bit disappointing to see a strategic element removed from the game, but it's become clear that watching pitchers hit is a thing of the past.

Free runner in extra innings: Stay. I was skeptical of this rule change but the runner on second added serious drama to extra-innings contests. Walk-offs were accelerated, bullpens were saved and speed specialists found a new avenue to impact the game.

Expanded playoffs: Change. The playoffs as currently constituted provided no real benefit to the best teams. Solution: Each league gets seven playoff teams, with the top seed earning a bye to the Division Series. The wild-card round will continue to be best of three, with all three games at the park of the higher-seeded team. From there we'll have a traditional playoffs until a champion is crowned. This may not be a perfect plan, but if baseball wants to expand the playoffs in 2021 and beyond, this is the best route