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MLB rosters will expand to 28 players through May 1

A summary of rule changes for 2022

Toronto Blue Jays v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Major League Baseball will have expanded rosters once the regular season begins, going from 26 to 28 players on the active rosters through May 1 to account for the condensed spring training after the 99-day lockout.

The league and the players union came to an agreement on a number of areas for the 2022 season, which was announced on Thursday. In addition to the 28-player rosters for April, other rules in place include the runner on second base for extra-inning games, and an amended designated hitter rule for two-way players that is basically a rule for Shohei Ohtani.

Expanded rosters

Instead of 26 players on the active roster to start the season, teams are allowed to have 28 active players through May 1. For the Dodgers, whose schedule starts April 8, that means 21 games with two extra players.

A caveat is that the 13-pitcher limit for the 26-man roster — a rule change approved before the 2020 season but done away with the last two seasons in the name of COVID-19 protocols — won’t extend proportionally to 28-man rosters, like it will in September when teams can carry 14 pitchers at most.

Considering that the whole point of expanded rosters in April is to alleviate that starting pitchers aren’t yet fully built up, it’s understandable that the extra roster spots would be used by arms. Dave Roberts said Thursday that the Dodgers are considering 15 or 16 pitchers on the opening day roster.

Option/injured list limits

The new collective bargaining agreement calls for a limit of five times a player can be optioned in one season. But per this agreement between players and owners, for 2022 only, any option that happens prior to May 2 won’t count toward that limit.

Another rule that was adopted in 2020, but scrapped over the last two years as part of COVID protocols, was that the period for pitchers when optioned or placed on the injured list is 15 days, unlike 10 days for position players.

But for 2022 only, any pitchers optioned or placed on the injured list before May 2 only need to be on option or on the IL for 10 days.

Automatic runner in extras

The free runner on second base to start each extra inning is back, a remnant of COVID-19 protocols the previous two seasons. The stated intent was to reduce extra wear on pitching staffs and rosters with longer games (by innings, not time). To that end, the automatic runner worked.

Extra-inning game lengths, 2018-2021

Years Total games End in 10 innings End by 11th End by 12th 13+ innings
Years Total games End in 10 innings End by 11th End by 12th 13+ innings
2018-19 424 191 (45%) 293 (69%) 348 (82%) 76 (18%)
2020-21 284 202 (71%) 262 (92%) 279 (98%) 5 (2%)
For 2020-21, only counted games that went past 9 innings (did not capture all 7-inning games from doubleheaders) Source: Baseball Reference

In 2020-21, 92 percent of all extra-inning games (the games that were scheduled for nine innings, at least) were decided by the 11th inning, compared to just 69 percent in 2018-19. In the last two seasons, with the automatic runner rule, only five games — just two percent of the total extra-inning games — lasted at least 13 innings. Four of those games went exactly 13 innings, with the lone outlier a 16-inning marathon between the Dodgers and Padres in San Diego last August 25.

Ohtani Rule

MLB has adapted the designated hitter rule, such that pitchers who bat for themselves can stay in the game after they are done pitching.

The added part of MLB Rule 5.11(a):

It is not mandatory that a Club designate a hitter for the pitcher. However, in the event the starting pitcher will bat for himself, the player will be considered two separate people for purposes of Rule 5.11(a). In such cases, the manager should list 10 players on his team’s lineup card, and this player should be named twice – once as the starting pitcher and once as the Designated Hitter. Thus, if the starting pitcher is replaced, he can continue as the Designated Hitter, and if the Designated Hitter is replaced, he can continue as the pitcher (but can no longer hit for himself). If the player is simultaneously replaced both as a starting pitcher and Designated Hitter, he cannot be replaced by another two-way player filling both roles as separate people (this can be done only once on the initial lineup card by identifying that the starting pitcher will bat for himself).

[Emphasis mine]

The Angels in their spring training lineup on Thursday did just that, listing Ohtani as both designated hitter and pitcher (with the caveat that after Jeff Fletcher’s tweet the rule was in fact approved and announced).