Home MLB Reviewing the basics. Volume 2

Reviewing the basics. Volume 2

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqThe process of updating our Baseball Basics for Brits series continues with a revised version of volume 2.

The second volume in the series covers the construction of MLB rosters.  It can be a relatively dry, somewhat technical subject  but it’s one that deserves to be covered for two reasons:

  1. it’s all quite different to how things work in British sports
  2. the rules and formalities have a direct bearing on the choices open to the General Manager and Manager, and therefore on the games that are played.

There haven’t been any real changes since the first edition of the volume from 2008 to either roster construction rules or how teams use their allocation of 25 spots each day. 

Most teams go with 13 position players and 12 pitchers, the latter split into a five-man rotation and a seven-man bullpen.  Talk of a return to a four-man rotation has tended to come from those around the game rather than in it and it doesn’t look likely that a team will divert from the current norm any time soon. 

I did have to re-write the opening section, although that was due to a rule change in football rather than baseball.  Previously I had been able to state:

“Let’s start with the British way.  A football manager picks his side from a squad containing first-team players, reserve-team players and some emerging young players from the team’s academy. The size of this squad is not officially regulated, although cost considerations and practicalities (e.g. if players are not involved they want to move somewhere else) will limit it unofficially to a manageable size”.

Thanks to the new Premier League rule that limits squads to 25 players, that’s no longer true.  Still, that 25-man limit coincidentally reflects the size of an MLB active roster so I could use that as a neat way into the topic.

The volume now puts the 25-man and 40-man rosters into the wider context of an MLB organizations’ playing staff.  One aspect of baseball that contrasts strongly with football is that there is one main league and the lower leagues are all teams full of players that technically belong to one of the 30 Big League clubs.  Only a small percentage will ever make it to the Majors of course, but it’s important to know how the pyramid works and that players can make their way up through the different playing levels.

Elsewhere, I’ve added in some details to hopefully give newcomers a slightly deeper understanding of the points raised.  For example, as I work through the different types of players in a roster, I now make a point of noting how many games they typically play (150+ for position players, 32 starts/200 innings for starting pitchers, 60-70 appearances for relievers etc).  These kind of details are minor in some ways, but they help to give newcomers a feel for the basics that the rest of us can take for granted at times.

Aside from these revisions, I’ve added in a completely new section all about the ‘handedness’ of batters and pitchers.  It all starts from the understanding that batters tend to find it harder to face pitchers who are the same handedness as them: i.e. right-handed hitters often find it harder to hit right-handed pitchers.  This adds an extra element to the pitcher-batter battle and from the roster point of view has an impact on the use of relief pitchers as well as having a bearing on how the manager fills out his group of 13 position players (adding an extra left or right-handed bat potentially to set up a platoon situation).

This is a good example of how the intricacies of roster management blend in with in-game tactical decisions.  Hopefully this overview therefore allows newcomers to pick up on some of the fascinating tactical moments that can crop up in game and can pass you by at first when you start watching the sport.

Finally, I had a bit of a panic when I checked my weblink to Rob Neyer’s excellent transaction primer on ESPN.com and found that it no longer worked.  Thankfully a quick Google check uncovered as ‘assets’ version that has been preserved within the ESPN.com archive, all the more important now that Neyer has left the company and started writing for SB Nation.

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