What is the “Shohei Ohtani Rule”? A look at the MLB rule changes for 2022

It was the fifth inning. The first batter hit a home run to tie the score. Two of the next three batters reached base. Shohei Ohtani was done for today – or was he?

The Angels wanted to replace Ohtani on the mound, but they didn’t want to lose his batter in their lineup, not if he was going to finish fourth at the end of the inning.

However, he had started the game as a pitcher, not a designated hitter. To keep him in play for his next at-bat, the Angels had to move him to right field.

The Angels went out in turn at the end of the inning, so they had to risk playing Ohtani in right field for another inning. He then batted, dropped a colored single, got kicked out trying to steal second base, and eventually left the game.

In the life of Ohtani that was a day last May.

There is no more nonsense this season. Under a new rule nicknamed the “Shohei Ohtani Rule,” a team can list a player as a pitcher and designated hitter on the days they start, and then remove them in one role but not the other. If the Angels go to the bullpen, Ohtani would be out of the game as a pitcher but would remain in the game as the designated hitter.

It’s a fan-friendly rule because who doesn’t want to see Ohtani bat more often? But it also restores a degree of fairness: why should Ohtani and the angels be punished for his unique abilities? Why would they be forced to limit how long he can bat because he can pitch for so long?

The rule isn’t limited to Ohtani, of course, although he’s said to be the main beneficiary. But let’s say the Angels face a team using a right-handed opener. This season’s Angels pitchers include Michael Lorenzen, whose career OPS (on-base plus slugging) against righties is .767. Last season’s league average was .725.

So in theory, the Angels could start Lorenzen, have him bat against the opener, then keep him in the game as a pitcher and remove him as a DH.

What else is new in 2022? Here’s what:

For this season only

  • The rosters expand from 26 to 28 in the first month of the season, giving teams protection for pitchers who may not be able to get deep into games right away due to the truncated spring practice.
  • The return of the “ghost runner” to protect against pitching staff overload during a season with a tightened schedule, including 30 planned doubleheaders. In all extra innings, a team starts at bat with a runner on second base.

For 2022 and beyond

  • The designated hitter in both leagues.
  • The playoffs expand from 10 to 12 teams. Of the three division champions in each league, the two with the best records receive a bye in the first round and are automatically promoted to the division series. The other four playoff teams meet in a best-of-three series, with winners advancing to the divisional series.
  • The “Andrew Friedman Rules,” all designed to minimize the constant tinkering with a roster in search of the smallest advantage. Pitcher Mitch White, for example, was sent to the minor leagues 11 times last season by the Dodgers, sometimes a day or two after his call-up. If beginning pitchers can dig deeper into the games, all the better.

The Changes: If a team wishes to demote a player who has already been optioned five times this season, every other team must first be given the opportunity to claim him on waivers. (For this season, options before May 2 will not count towards the new limit.) And starting May 2, teams will be limited to 13 pitchers on their active roster, with the minimum stay for a pitcher on the injured list increasing from 10 days to 15 days.

  • The player salaries a team can field without paying a luxury tax will rise from $210 million last year to $230 million this year. That number increases to $233 million in 2023, $237 million in 2024, $241 million in 2025, and $244 million in 2026.
  • Players who are not yet eligible for salary arbitration, most of whom are playing for a salary of at least $700,000 or close to it, are eligible for performance-based bonuses from a pool of $50 million per season.

From 2023

  • A draft lottery so the team with the worst record of a year doesn’t necessarily end up being number one next year. The 18 non-playoff teams qualify for the lottery, although large-market teams cannot qualify in two consecutive years and small-market teams cannot qualify in three consecutive years. The top 6 among these 18 teams will be determined by lottery, with the rest in reverse order of win percentage.
  • Free agents would no longer be subject to qualifying offers, meaning a team would no longer lose draft picks by signing a free agent. (However, for this change to take effect, the players’ union must agree to an international draft by July 25. As a result, a top prospect from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela would no longer sign as a free agent with a team, but would be limited to signing at to sign any team that drafts it, as is currently the case for top prospects in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. If an international draft is accepted, MLB hopes to launch it in 2024.) What is the “Shohei Ohtani Rule”? A look at the MLB rule changes for 2022

Andrew Schnitker

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