Over the last couple of years, since Major League Baseball changed its minimum disabled-list stay from 15 days to 10, teams have used this to place more pitchers on the DL and rotate some of their top minor-league pitchers through their bullpens. We’ve dubbed this the “Iowa Shuttle” here and the Cubs have had some success with it.
There’s a report out Thursday morning that MLB wants to change all this:
Major League Baseball has proposed going back to a 15-day disabled list and increasing the time optioned players usually must spend in the minor leagues, a person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press, moves aimed at reducing the use of relief pitchers and reviving offense.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the plans were not publicly announced.
The minimum length of time an injured player spends on the disabled list was cut from 15 days to 10 in 2016 as part of baseball’s new labor contract. As a result, DL placements rose from 563 in 2016 to 702 in 2017 and then again to 737 last year, the commissioner’s office said.
As you can see, teams definitely appeared to be using the shorter DL time to “rest” pitchers. Famously, the Dodgers did this in 2017, when they won 104 games and the N.L. pennant. No Dodger starter made more than 27 starts that year (Clayton Kershaw) and seven Dodger pitchers started at least nine games (including mid-season acquisition Yu Darvish). Perhaps as a result, the Dodger staff blew away the rest of the N.L. in fewest runs allowed (580), 79 fewer runs than the next-best team (Nationals).
According to the article, this 15-day span would also be applied to minor-league optional assignments:
As part of the plan, a player optioned would have to spend at least 15 days in the minor leagues, up from 10. That limit has been waived when a player is recalled to replace someone going on the DL, gets suspended under the drug or domestic violence agreements, or goes on a paternity or bereavement list.
The result of this proposal, if approved, would likely be the end of the Iowa Shuttle (or whatever other teams call what they’ve been doing with disabled-list placements). DL placements would likely return to their 2016 levels. Or... maybe not, because if the idea is “reducing the use of relief pitchers,” you’re going to see more starting pitchers injured. Or more relief pitchers injured. Or both. This proposal is fraught with potential unintended consequences.
As noted in the first quote from the linked article, “reviving offense” is one of the purported reasons for this proposal. There aren’t too many worse ways to do this, in my view. Here’s more on these proposed changes:
MLB included the proposals in a wider plan given to the players’ association, which also is considering management’s proposal from last offseason to institute pitch clocks. An agreement with the players’ association is necessary for playing rules changes. While management can make changes with one year advance notice, Commissioner Rob Manfred repeatedly has said he is reluctant to take that step.
Changes in off-the-field rules may be governed by a requirement in federal labor law that unions agree to alterations in terms and conditions of employment.
Talks are ongoing and are expected to extend to the eve of spring training, if not beyond.
So it’s possible that these things won’t be adopted at all. MLB has gone on record as wanting games to go at a faster pace, and I’m reasonably certain that if owners and players don’t agree on the pitch clock, that Manfred is going to use his power to unilaterally institute it. Based on results from its use in Double-A and Triple-A over the last few seasons, it does have the effect of picking up the pace of games, many pitchers who are in the majors now have used that clock in the minors and are accustomed to it, and based on comments Josh has made here, after a short time you wouldn’t even notice it.
But the DL proposal... man, I can see many different ways this could go wrong. We’ll see if MLB goes through with it over the next few weeks.
MLB’s proposal to go back to a 15-day DL...
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