One of the themes I hope I’m conveying through my work is that I am a fan of professional baseball, period. I recognize that Major League Baseball is the crème de la crème of professional baseball. I do really love all of baseball though, and I watch a lot of it. Recently, within one week, I’ve watched games from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. I can’t wait for the various fall/winter leagues to kick off and I’ll deep dive into North American minor leagues (both affiliated and independent) again next year. And watching so much baseball has allowed me to recognize that MLB’s way of doing things aren’t always the best.
One area that I’ve wanted to see MLB improve for some time now is the way it constructs rosters. I don’t have an issue with the active 25-man roster that is present on any given game day. What I have an issue with is the inflexibility of that roster. When MLB says it is a 25-man roster they mean it is strictly a static 25-man roster. Those are the players on the major league ballclub, and the only way they won’t be is if there is an injury or someone gets demoted. That rigidity leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the flexibility found in other pro leagues game day rosters.
The NPB, for example, uses a flexible 28-man roster. Before each game, the manager labels three players on the roster as inactive. The team will go into the game with 25 players who can actually play and three players who are not allowed to step foot on the field. Whenever I’m discussing roster construction I fall back to the NPB model, because I feel it contains very few flaws.
The first advantage of the NPB model is with pitchers, specifically starters. Two of the ineligible players are almost always starting pitchers: one who just pitched the day before and the other the pitcher for the next day. Unless they are Shohei Otani and tearing the league up with a bat as the designated hitter, there’s no reason for those players to be on the field.
Let’s assume that two of the three spots are taken up by starting pitchers every single game. The last spot could be used for a reliever who had to go multiple innings the night before. Or for a fielder who is day-to-day with an injury but not hurt enough to be placed on the disabled list. If you’re the Chicago Cubs you could always take advantage of your preference for carrying three catchers by dropping a catcher in an ineligible spot every now and then. The spot could be used for a guy who a manager just wants to give a day off, except now he’s guaranteed to get the day off no matter what.
Perhaps allowing a more flexible roster would lead to fewer position players risking injury when they are forced to come in and pitch during a rout or an extra inning game, as happened to Toronto’s Ryan Goins this year. I know we all love the position player as a pitcher, but I’d rather see them on the field than on the disabled list. The flexible roster could be used to work more righties into the lineup when a manager knows he is facing a predominantly left-handed pitching team. I don’t know exactly how a flexible roster would be used, but that’s part of the appeal: In the hands of competent managers a flexible roster could, and should, be a very valuable tool.
What a flexible roster does more than anything is, just as the name implies, create flexibility. The 25-man roster that MLB employs is fine. It’s not hurting the game, and making changes to the roster is certainly not a pressing matter. I do think, however, that the way NPB and most other pro leagues (baseball and otherwise) handle their day-to-day roster trumps the current MLB model. MLB doesn’t need to become NPB, and it doesn’t even need to adopt the 28 man model I’ve proposed in this article. What MLB should do, I think, is to become a little more flexible with its roster model. Change isn’t always bad, and a little flexibility is never a bad thing.Next post: Who SHOULD Your Team’s AAA Affiliate Be?
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