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Will a Shortened Season Bring Any Strategic Changes?

Rob Manfred has declared that Opening Day will now be delayed by at least two months

Major League Baseball Suspends Spring Training Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

After Manfred’s announcement that the MLB season is not beginning any time soon, this leads to more questions about what the format of the season will look like. There is now a good chance that the season will not begin until June and apparently there are some fears that baseball activities will not begin until memorial day. This would cause a huge change in the season schedule and leads to questions about the length of the season and how much time players will need in a later version of Spring Training. It appears that the season will be shortened by at least a month and a half and potentially longer depending on how the pandemic situation develops.

This means that when games start, each game will have more significance due to the short season. Clearly every game matters in an 162 game season; however, when this season gets shortened, it is going to be harder for teams to fall behind in the division and then make a comeback because they may simply run out of time. Because of this, we may see teams employ their personnel more aggressively. This could create more opportunity for teams to use a four man rotation for a more extended period of time, especially if there are upcoming off days. Due to the shortened season this strategy may be more sustainable as pitchers would have an increased strain over a much shorter period of time. Additionally, if this strategy is used, it could lead to more aggressive bullpen usage as well. By removing one off day between starts, a manager might be more likely to pull his starter early if his pitch count is getting inflated and turn to his bullpen. Once again, the shortened season would lead to a decreased overall workload if they are used in a traditional way. Therefore, a manager might be more willing to be aggressive with his pitching staff in order to make the most of the short season.

Additionally, a shorter season is likely to lead to a decreased reliance on depth as managers will be more inclined to lean on their best players in order to maximize their win totals from the reduced schedule. This could mean that the regular starters will play in a higher percentage of games than in previous seasons. However, this idea does not apply to the whole team. As previously stated, managers might get more aggressive with their deployment of the bullpen. Therefore, if relievers are getting burned out, the Memphis shuttle might be needed in order to provide fresh bullpen arms occasionally. One pitcher that might experiene this is Daniel Ponce de Leon (if he does not win a job in the rotation).

However, this more frequent use of starters and less frequent use of depth players could be dangerous if the players are not given enough time to fully prepare for the season. It would not be surprising to see Spring Training be extended by a couple weeks once it begins again. This would push the season back even further and create an increased need to not let games slip away. This would contribute to the more aggressive use of starters and scaled back usage of less important players.

This lengthy season delay appears likely to lead to an increased sense of urgency in managers and this could lead to more unorthodox strategies that would not normally be employed. Even though the season will be shorter, it should provide plenty of strategic entertainment. For Cardinals fans it will be interesting to see how Mike Shildt adapts to the shortened season and how he handles the workloads of his pitchers and starting lineup. IF there is one benefit from the shortened season for the Cardinals, it is that they will have time to get healthy as players such as Miles Mikolas and Brett Cecil were injured and plenty of other players were experiencing various kinds of soreness. These next two months should be more than enough time for everyone to get healthy and for Mike Shildt to strategize for the upcoming season.