Major League Baseball will return to a 162-game season in 2021, but that doesn’t mean it’s back to business as usual. The league and the MLB Players’ Association agreed Monday to a series of protocols for the upcoming year while rejecting some of the wholesale changes to MLB rules that were in place for 2020.
That means fans won’t see the designated hitter in the National League this year, and the postseason will revert to the 10-team format that has been standard in recent seasons.
Doubleheaders, Extra Innings Modified Again
MLB proposed going to a 14-team playoff format for 2021, but players came out against the idea. Owners pushed for a delayed start for a 154-game season, as well as expanded playoffs and the universal DH, a package the MLBPA took issue with on several fronts.
But, players and owners were able to come to a consensus on some continuing protocols for 2021. Just like last year, teams will begin with a runner on second base in extra innings in an effort to shorten games. In addition, all doubleheaders will consist of seven-inning games.
Both rules should help reduce wear and tear on players, especially as COVID-19 protocols force more doubleheaders than in normal seasons. Last year, there were 56 doubleheaders that accounted for about 12% of games, the most since 1978.
In addition, no extra-inning game went longer than 13 innings. Every season since 1901 has featured at least one game that went 15 innings or further.
MLB’s COVID-19 Rules Strengthened
Of the two rules — the extra-inning change — was the more controversial, as some found adding runners, especially starting in the 10th inning, to be gimmicky. But, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler said he’s fine with carrying over these protocols to 2021.
“We’re comfortable with both rules,” Kapler told the Associated Press. “It seems like most were good with them in ’20, and with a year of familiarity under our belts, we’ll tackle them fine.”
The agreement for the 2021 season also includes more comprehensive COVID-19 protocols. Players must quarantine for five days before reporting to spring training later this month, and any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days. There’s also a new code of conduct that prohibits certain activities, including attending indoor restaurants, bars, or entertainment venues. Players must wear masks at all times, except while on the field during games or warmups.
Major League Baseball will be making another minor change to its on-field product for 2021. According to the AP, the league sent a memo to all teams saying that the new baseballs being used in 2021 will fly slightly shorter – around one to two feet on balls hits over 375 feet.
Batters hit an MLB record 6,776 home runs in 2019. Last year, the home run rate dropped marginally, from 6.6% of plate appearances to 6.5%.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will enter spring training as the clear favorite to win the 2021 World Series. DraftKings Sportsbook rates the defending champions as a +350 pick to win a second straight title.