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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Three Batter Minimum Rule’s Biggest Dilemma

The three-batter minimum rule is coming to a regular season game near you in just a couple weeks. The stated desire of the rule is to reduce those time-consuming and action-relieving breaks late in games as a parade of relievers come in to get just a couple of outs. (The rule, for those who need a refresher, requires pitchers to either face a minimum of three batters in an appearance or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with some exceptions allowed for injury and illness.) If pitchers are forced to stay in games, then we’ll end up with fewer pitching changes and fewer breaks. That’s the idea, anyway. Ben Clemens took a look back in December and found that the number of times the rule would have actually come into effect in 2019 was actually pretty minimal. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an effect on strategy.

Over at The Athletic, Jayson Stark talked with multiple managers to get a handle on how much they’ll have to plan, and to figure out how the new rule could affect deployments when it comes to lineups, pinch hitters, and when to use relievers. It seems the rule will invite intentional walks and, as Buster Olney had previously mentioned, mid-batter pitching changes as pitching the last ball to a batter in a walk gets a pitcher credit for facing a batter. In some cases, this could even result in the return of pitchers using four actual pitches to intentionally walk a batter in order to set up the next reliever to come in before the intentional walk is complete.

While the resulting strategy will be much-discussed and analyzed in the context of a number of game-states, there is one situation that interests me the most: two outs, late in the game, with runners on base and a good lefty hitter coming to the plate.

Under the old rules, we might see a lefty come in to try to finish the inning; failing that, a righty could follow for the next batter, and try to finish things off. Now, if the lefty comes in and does his job against a lefty batter, the minimum is successfully skirted and the pitcher doesn’t have to start the next inning. However, if the lefty fails to retire the batter, he must stay in to face another hitter, presumably a righty in an even more difficult circumstance.

Should we really trust this commentary on strategy, given the history of managers on such matters?

 

 

QLE Posted: March 11, 2020 at 01:00 AM | 23 comment(s)
  Beats: strategy, three-batter minimum

 

 

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