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Tactical Changes in a 50 Game Season

The owners have offered a 50 game season at full pay to the players. They may implement it by themselves if they need to. The reason is that players do not get significant extra compensation for postseason play and the owners get huge tv revenues. So postseason play is very profitable and regular season play is marginally profitable without ticket sales.So there is a decent chance that we will be faced with a short season. Potentially as short as 50 games.Why does this matter? There is a lot of luck in baseball. Anything can happen in a single at bat or in a single game. The idea is that over a 162 game season, the luck averages out and the better teams make the playoffs. The playoffs are, to a great extent, a crap shoot.

So every game in a shortened season will be much more important than it was in a 162 game season.

The question is, what tactical changes will teams utilize to increase their chances of winning every game? I’ve thought of a few:

4 Man Rotations. It’s possible that some teams will use shorter rotations if their 5th pitchers are not as good as their first 4.

Reliever Games. If teams have to cut off a 5th starter, they may increasingly use the reliever game strategy if they need to pitch without a day off.

Short Starter Hooks. Teams will have to pull starters early if they are struggling. Burning out bullpens over a 50 game season is less of a concern. I can also see them increasingly pulling starters after 2 turns through the lineup. Third turns tend to have substantially worse performance for pitchers.

Benching Slumping Players. It’s quite common for even good players to have a slump for a week or 2. Teams usually play through this in a 162 game season. In a shortened season, I can see them benching slumping players to optimize their chances to win every game. If teams want to do this, they will first need to figure out how to measure a slump in performance as opposed to just a string of bad luck.

Frequent Lineup Changes. Managers tend to try and keep lineups stable over the course of a season to give players stability. I’ve never seen any research as to whether this is a good idea or if it’s just another baseball old wives’ tale that has yet to meet its just end. But I can certainly see teams shifting slumping players to the bottom of the lineup in a shortened season.

Some of these ideas have been tried by innovative teams recently (e.g. reliever games) and some would be new. And if we do have a very short season that spurs innovation, it would not be surprising to see some of these tactics survive next year in a (hopefully) regular length season. Honestly, I’m sort of looking forward to seeing what will happen.

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