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The problem with fixing September rosters

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I’ve seen a suggestion for September rosters to speed up the game. The problem is that it wouldn’t fix anything.

MLB: NLDS-San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

As we indulge in playoff baseball, we see matchups galore as each team’s manager jockeys for the advantage in any important plate appearance. Anthony Rizzo comes to the plate? Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is ready to counter with Grant Dayton. Have a lineup that alternates righties and lefties? You’ll probably see two, maybe three pitchers in a single inning. Not every team is blessed with an Andrew Miller so they unload every quality reliever they can as they navigate the late innings.

We see the same thing occur in September after rosters have expanded. With reinforcements at the ready, managers get even more involved in the game by unloading their bullpen as they please. At times it becomes unwatchable as a parade of relievers trots into the game following each plate appearance, as if they are being paid millions of dollars to retire just one batter a game.

Nowadays a regular pitching staff features 12 or 13 players, but with September rosters allowing 40 players at once, some teams start pushing 20 pitchers on any given day. No wonder that the matchup game becomes so popular in the 7th, 8th, and 9th.

I’ve seen an idea kicked around that teams should work with an alternative on a daily basis. The plan goes that each team is still allowed their 40-man roster to be available on any day, but the team must designate a 25-man team before each game. In theory, this would limit the number of changes a team would make each game, because after all teams operate with a 25-man roster every non-September game, anyway.

Except, there’s no reason for team’s to operate the same way. Teams look to bend and twist the rules whenever they possibly can. Joe Maddon once sent outfielder Sam Fuld to warm up on the mound to buy more time for his reliever in the bullpen (and got away with it as according to the rules, Fuld should have been forced to face one batter). Pitcher Carter Capps, who already throws in the upper-90s, jumps off the pitching rubber before releasing each pitch. Baseballs are doctored, batter’s box lines are erased, anything to get the slightest advantage over your opposition.

Teams carry anywhere between four to six starting pitchers every game. However, how many are realistically needed on a daily basis? Typically it’s only that day’s starter, but every once in a while a second is needed in the event of extra innings or an early exit from the starter. That leaves two to five that aren’t being used each day. Why waste those roster spots if there’s virtually no chance of them being used? Hence, I could easily see teams splitting those roster spots among other players. Sure, some could be position players, but others would certainly be relievers. In that case, we’re back to square one where teams were loading up with extra relievers every game.

For the record, in spite of the different rules in September, I have no issue with the expansion of rosters. My main reason is that I’m always a fan of seeing new players (yes, even the James Beresfords of the league for a game or two) but also because baseball has a season unlike any other sport and reinforcements lessen the load for the full-time players. However, if I were to concoct a solution, I’d imagine that we’d have even stricter roster limits. Beyond the current 40 men available, 25 men active suggestion, I’d put a limit on the number of pitchers available in the bullpen. Let’s say, you’re allowed seven pitchers in the bullpen per game. You name your seven on your lineup card and no one outside of those seven is allowed to pitch in relief that day.

Clearly this would solve the abuse of righty-righty and lefty-lefty matchups we see, but ultimately it would open more cans of worms. In a blowout, a team would probably want to use a position player rather than burn another reliever. Additionally, in an extra-inning game, you might use all seven pitchers before the game is over, risking injury to whomever was chosen to pitch the longest if he wasn’t already stretched out. Admittedly those are not daily issues, but I feel they’d be prevalent enough that teams would balk against any roster changes.

Nevertheless, I think most of all this is solving the wrong type of problem in baseball. I think most people are opposed to constant pitching changes because they make the game drag on. However, baseball has done a half-assed attempt to rid itself of its worst offenders (commercial breaks, dead time between pitches) and it would be such a backwards solution to fix something that isn’t the root cause of the problem.

Are there any roster changes you think would be beneficial for baseball?