MLB and COVID-19: 9 Things we Learned from the Corona Virus Season

Martha Cruz

As baseball fans, we were all expecting so much from the upcoming 2020 MLB season. A variety of prospects were getting their invites to spring training, new managers, veteran players final season; the list goes on. One thing that wasn’t on the agenda, COVID-19. As the fear of the infectious disease was growing every day, so was the concern of how MLB could keep their players safe while still playing the game they love. Although this season seemed to be all bad, there was also some good that came out of MLB’s COVID season.

PRO: Less travel, less fatigue for players

Players are used to intense travel during the 6-7 month, 162-game season. With only 60 games to be played and limited travel due to the nationwide travel ban, players were getting a break from their non-stop flights, which seems to be for the better. A study conducted by sleepfoundation.org showed that MLB Players’ strike-zone judgment was worse in September than in April in 24 to 30 teams. The same study showed that across all teams, the average strike-judgment was significantly worse in September compared to April. 

Join the MLB stars on their trip to Japan through these photos | MLB.com
https://www.mlb.com/cut4/join-the-mlb-stars-on-their-trip-to-japan-through-photos/c-100964298

This research all ties back into traveling fatigue. With less fatigue and jet lag, players can deliver better, thus creating stronger competition. This season, we witnessed better performance among players, although it might not seem obvious to fans. Regardless, this shorter season had some positive effects on a player’s ability to deliver.

CON: Players had to get used to the new environment while playing

CDC guidelines limited physical interactions this season. The league wanted to make sure they followed every guideline possible, so they banned players from high-fiving, closely celebrating after game wins, and spitting in the dugout. Although this might not seem like a big deal to many, it’s something that players had to get used to. Little actions like these can be done without knowing, and prohibited them could have definitely threw off some players.

Dodgers: Balloons, Kiké, 5 things we learned from opening night win
https://dodgersway.com/2020/07/24/dodgers-balloons-kike-opening-night-win/

Another big difference: no fans in the stadiums. During the 2019 season, the average attendance at games in the MLB was 28,317. Playing in an empty stadium could also make a big difference for players and how they play the game. Fans are usually chanting, booing, and everything in between. Not having that rowdiness does make a big difference. “There’s other motivations other than just loud crowds. But I’ll tell you what, being here and playing in front of nobody really showed me how much I appreciate fans in the stands.” Lotte Giants pitcher Dan Straily tells ESPN.

PRO: Massive testing could be done in a diligent way

Although off to a rocky start, the COVID testing protocol was adjusted, resulting in no positive test within a 2-month span. At the start of the lockdown, widespread testing was difficult to get done as there were not many COVID testing kits available, and the country was still trying to maneuver through everyone who needed to get tested. Within months, MLB was later able to get regular testing done as the season began. 5 more MLB players positive for COVID-19 - Chicago Tribune

https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/ct-mlb-players-covid-19-positive-20200717-fvidau5jcvfynngom7fhe2i7xq-story.html

Some protocols in place were temperature checks at least twice a day, quarantining an individual for 24-48 hours until their results came back, and body fluid samples/blood samples for antibody tests. How MLB handled everything towards the end of the season proves that sports teams can implement ways to get their players tested rigorously so that games can be played even during a pandemic. Should they be played, though, is another story. 

CON: Players chose to opt-out of playing the shorter season

Playing a short season in the middle of a pandemic didn’t sit well with many players, so MLB gave them the liberty to opt-out. Players like Buster Posey and Ryan Zimmerman chose the safety of their families over playing in 2020. There was no requirement for players to disclose why they chose to opt-out, but it was self-evident that their safety and families were the priority. 

Freddie Freeman opens up about fearing for his life during "scariest night" battling COVID-19 - Article - Bardown
https://www.bardown.com/freddie-freeman-opens-up-about-fearing-for-his-life-during-scariest-night-battling-covid-19-1.1497184

Then, players like Freddie Freeman still played in 2020 despite having a terrible experience with COVID-19 in the summer. He expressed his experience with the virus and how he was scared for his life. “My body was really, really hot, so I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready.” With many star players out, the season felt incomplete as managers were scouring to find replacements. It just didn’t feel like a regular-season without having some of the bigger names.

PRO: There is room for improvement, as next season approaches, and things that didn’t work in 2020 could be modified for the 2021 season

Strict CDC guidelines made MLB adjust how things ran around the league in just a matter of months. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, organizing a season was not easy for those at the front desk. With this season now in the books, we can expect positive adjustments next season now that more information is uncovered about COVID. This mock season will benefit the future of MLB shall the pandemic last another couple of years.

As more players contract coronavirus, can MLB be trusted? - Los Angeles Times
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-07-28/mlb-coronavirus-marlins-phillies-testing-season-players

Although we are still unsure what the league plans to do next season, many elements worked, and MLB might keep those improvements around, at least for another season. “But at least baseball, I think, did a very good job in setting an example for the nation. We cannot have a 100 percent shutdown. We’ve got to have a judicious, surgical type of social distancing with masks and carry on. So I think they did a pretty good job.” Dr. Lawerence Rocks, a renowned chemist, tells The New York Post. Who knows, we might even see more fans on the stands in 2021.

CON: The draft was a little skewed

Spring training was cut short for those in the major leagues and high school students looking to get drafted in 2020. Not only that but in an effort to save money following coronavirus concerns, the MLB Draft has shifted from its traditional 40 rounds to a five-rounds this year. There were 1,217 players selected last year, but only 160 picks will be selected this year, 13% of the usual

2020 MLB Draft: Full results tracker, list of all 160 picks from five-round process - CBSSports.com
https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/2020-mlb-draft-full-results-tracker-list-of-all-160-picks-from-five-round-process/

This was a significant difference meaning there would be fewer prospects able to join any team in the next coming years. The scouts become concerned with the player’s ability after scouting them almost a year ago “It really makes it more of a challenge. You haven’t seen the player. Did he get stronger? It makes it hard. It’s a little bit of a challenge.’’ Damon Oppenheimer, a scout, tells the New York Post. A player’s capability could have changed dramatically during quarantine, so coming into the draft, many were wary of their decisions.

PRO: Players got a little extra rest during quarantine

Baseball players spend half the year playing regular-season games, and that’s not including the postseason and spring training. In reality, some baseball players will spend at least nine months doing baseball-related activities a year. Doing so many activities at the beginning of the season and the end can cause season fatigue.

Life's a beach for Dodgers, Little Leaguers | MLB.com
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Season fatigue measures how much a player will get tired during the regular season before they start suffering long-term fatigue penalties. Season fatigue can be very small or very dramatic, depending on the player’s endurance and how much he is overworked. Most players with good endurance will be able to play in the majority of their team’s games with minimal impact. Ensuring a player is not overplayed is important to the player’s physical well-being and is not measured equally throughout each player.

CON: Too much rest could affect players like pitchers

According to former pitcher Steven Ellis, lack of an active in-season maintenance program of running, stretching, light strengthening work, and a controlled throwing program can cause significant injury to a pitcher’s arm. This means that if a pitcher is not conditioning properly during the time off, it can lead to damage during the season. Pitchers are used to conditioning their arms as they spend time during spring training. There needs to be a balance between how much they use their arm and how much they rest it. 

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PRO: At least we had baseball this year, even if it means having an asterisk next to the year

Many will complain, and you can’t please them all, but can we at least be grateful that we got to see baseball during this craziness? Players took a chance and came back to play the game they love for the fans. Not only that, but we finally got to see the Dodgers win the championship they have been chasing for many years now. The circumstances might not have been ideal, and players would have to adjust to the way they celebrate on the field, but seeing the progress MLB made this season when responding to a global pandemic was something to be very appreciative of.

Baseball's first fans of 2020 at NLCS opener - Chicago Tribune
https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/ct-nlcs-fans-covid-19-mlb-postseasoon-20201013-sgcrmclm4nczjok6qxbms4q5vi-story.html

Even though all the madness, the MLB did it. They got through a season of baseball like no other. With many curve balls thrown their way, we see the 2020 MLB season as a success story, even with all the backlash they faced. Fans got what they wanted, and the Dodgers finally got their championship in the oddest way anyone could have imagined. Time will only tell when we will see a regular baseball season again, but baseball is ready for another situation like this. Who knows, it might be next year when we see everyone back in action like the old times, or we might need to wait for a couple more. Needless to say, baseball fans had fun watching the untraditional, COVID-19 baseball season.

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