Just when we thought we escaped, MLB has unleashed the havoc of the ghost runner once again. The much-maligned change that led to extra-innings bunt and sac-fly fests is coming back, thanks to an agreement by MLB and the MLBPA. It’s part of a wider set of rules changes that include a special “Ohtani Rule” for two-way players and expanded rosters which may affect who the Chicago Cubs bring with them into the season.
Let’s get the bad part out of the way first. Although the rule was originally killed off in the new CBA, the shortened spring training led the two sides to bring the runner on second back as a way of preventing overly lengthy games. Both were considering it to save pitchers’ arms, but it always felt like a gimmicky way to reach that goal. The ghost runner always felt like a rule Rob Manfred always loved way more than everyone else which is why I love calling it the Manfred Man.
It’s also not that effective at doing its job. Jay Jaffe wrote a great blog post on FanGraphs showing that the rule really only shaved off about ten minutes from the average extra-innings game, even if the number of innings dipped. The Manfred Man also encouraged the least fun plays in baseball with sac bunts nearly six times as likely an intentional walks over 20 times as likely. It just leads to boring baseball that boils down to who can consistently bunt and hit sac flies. In a word, wack.
MLB rules changes affect how the Cubs head into the 2022 season
Regarding the other rules, only one really directly affects the Cubs: expanded rosters. To further curb injuries, teams will be allowed to have 28 men on the big league squad until May 2. It’s an interesting wrinkle coming into the season considering the Northsiders have a logjam with all of the short-term signings.
Really, it’s a godsend for the Cubs given the pitching injuries and their acquired depth. Losing both Codi Heuer and Brad Wieck to long-term injuries makes it all the more critical to find the best arms among their slew of signings. It also helps that there will be no limits on pitchers on the roster during this period. With two additional spots open, the Cubs may also opt to give one to a position player on the bubble like Harold Ramirez in order to see what they have.
The other addition is the now-dubbed “Ohtani Rule” because it only really benefits Shohei Ohtani. Under the change, starting pitchers that take at-bats as the DH will be able to stay in the game once they’re done on the mound. This doesn’t immediately affect the Cubs (unless they go all-in on Ohtani when he eventually hits free agency), but it’s a welcome change if only to see one of the game’s best players freed from a bit of a ticky tacky rule.
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As a saving grace, the Manfred Man is only expected to stick around for 2022 before (hopefully) vanishing in 2023. Overall though, the rule changes are welcome for a Cubs team desperate to see what they have in their myriad of low-risk, high upside signings. Expect them to use and abuse expanded rosters like crazy to find their best arms.