MLB Adjusts Rookie Eligibility Rules To Account For 60-Game Season

Image credit: Sixto Sanchez (Photo by Tom DiPace)

The shortened 60-game schedule created a unique dynamic for rookies in 2020.

Most notably, the short season meant a rookie could play in more than half of his team’s games, but as long as he did not exceed 50 innings or 130 at-bats, he would still be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 2021.

In a typical season, players also could exhaust rookie eligibility by spending 45 days on a team’s active roster, though days spent on the active roster after Sept. 1 did not count toward that total.

Major League Baseball is doing away with the September service time provision for 2020 rookies, meaning that 2020 debuts with more than 45 days of service will not carry rookie eligibility into 2021.

“Given that we were without September callups this season, days of service on the major league roster will include September 2020,” MLB said in a statement. “Thus, any player who accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a major league club or clubs during the 2020 regular season or during previous seasons prior to Sept. 1 will no longer be considered a rookie in 2021.”

This change to rookie eligibility rules will not affect players who debuted on Aug. 14 or later, and who remained in the majors continuously, because they would not have been able to accumulate more than 45 days of service.

This applies to promising debuts such as Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, Marlins righthander Sixto Sanchez, Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and Braves righthander Ian Anderson. All four debuted after Aug. 14 and remained under the at-bats and innings thresholds. Therefore, all four will retain rookie eligibility in 2021.

If any of them were to win the Rookie of the Year award this year, however, they would be deemed ineligible to win in 2021 even though they would otherwise qualify as rookies, according to MLB. 

“In our view, this provision reflects the spirit of Rookie of the Year award, an honor that a player typically earns only once during his career,” MLB said in its statement.

A player such as Indians righthander James Karinchak will not be eligible for the 2021 Rookie of the Year award because, with September 2020 included, he has more than 45 days on the active roster.

The new provision probably will not affect Rookie of the Year races in 2020. The top contenders for the ROY awards all:

• exceeded 130 at-bats, e.g. Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis, White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm and Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth.

• exceeded 50 innings, e.g. Dodgers righthanders Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, Astros righthander Cristian Javier and Athletics lefthander Jesus Luzardo.

• spent more than 45 days on the active roster with September 2020 included, e.g. Karinchak and Brewers righthander Devin Williams.

Here is where it gets interesting, though. According to MLB, a player who receives votes but doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year award will retain his rookie eligibility for 2021, provided he has not exceeded the standard rookie playing time thresholds or service time standards in place at the time.

Thus if Hayes or Mountcastle receive Rookie of the Year votes this year but don’t win the award, they will still be eligible for the ROY award in 2021 because they have not exceeded 130 at-bats, 50 innings or 45 days of service.

So, the possibility exists that Hayes finishes, say, sixth in National League ROY voting in 2020, and then wins the award in 2021.

The same would be true for other rookies such as Mountcastle, Sanchez or Anderson. They have a chance to become a unique group of players who can claim they received Rookie of the Year votes two seasons in a row. 

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