NEW YORK – 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 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.
Advanced analytics have shown team executives that starting pitchers are less successful the third time through the batting order. Increased DL and minor league option use has led to a strategy of teams rotating their middle relievers with their minor league affiliates in order to have more available pitchers each day. Teams even began using relievers as "openers" to start games last season, a trend sparked by the Tampa Bay Rays.
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.
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.
Teams averaged 3.4 relievers per game last year, up from 3.2 in 2016 and '17 and 3.0 in 2012, according to Sports Info Solutions. The total number of relief pitchers used was 16,339 last season, up from 15,657 in 2017.
Average innings per start dropped from 5.89 in 2012 to 5.65 in 2016, the last year of the old labor contract. The average sunk to 5.51 in 2017 and 5.36 last season. Average pitches per start has fallen, too, from 95 in 2012 to 93 in 2016, 92 in 2017 and 88 last year.
The proposals were made after the big league batting average dropped seven points last year to .248, its lowest level since 1972.
Strikeouts set a record for the 11th straight year, increasing by 1,103 to 41,207, and topped hits (41,019) for the first time in major league history. Hits led by 2,111 in 2017 and by 13,418 in 2006.
MLB proposed a pitch clock ahead of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but the union resisted each time. The 2018 plan called for an 18-second clock with no runners on base and a 20-second clock with runners on base, and a phase-in with warnings initially rather than ball-strike penalties.
Instead, MLB instituted a general limit of six mound visits per nine-inning game without a pitching change, whether by a manager, coach or player.
Nine-inning games averaged 3 hours, 44 seconds last year, down from 3:05:11 in 2017, and mound visits without pitching changes fell to an average of 4.01 from 7.41.