Image credit: Stetson Allie (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Minor League Baseball announced today that beginning this season, it will institute a rule requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters or pitch until the end of an inning, whichever comes first.
As far as actually affecting the game, it’s hard to imagine a rule that will be less noticed. Upper-level minor league teams do not use one-out relief specialists. Not only are they focused on development, but Triple-A teams are always worried about burning out their bullpens. They generally face restrictions to ensure that the team doesn’t use too many relievers on the 40-man in any one game, because any of those relievers could be asked to come to the majors tomorrow. With such restrictions, a one-out specialists is a bullpen management nightmare.
To get a sense of what the rule will do, I did a quick study. I looked at all 16 teams in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and how they used relievers in the 2018 season.
To find these specialists, the study looked for any pitcher with more than 10 appearances who had more appearances than innings pitched. For the PCL, there were only 14 pitchers who met that criteria. Of those 14, nine were three outs or less short of having as many innings as appearances. Those aren’t one-out specialists as much as they are ineffective one-inning relievers, so they were tossed out.
That left five relievers who might be affected by this rule. Two of them are righthanded, which is surprising, since there’s not really a big demand for ROOGY’s (Righty One Out Guy).
Righthander Miguel Almonte made 25 appearances. There were 10 times he pitched less than one inning. He faced four or more batters in every one of those 10 appearances, so the new rule would not apply to him.
Righthander Stetson Allie has six appearances of less than an inning. In three of those appearances he faced less than three batters, but in all three, he finished the inning, so the new rule would never apply to him.
Lefthander Daniel Schlereth had 12 appearances and threw only 8.1 innings. He had eight appearances of less than one inning, so he seems like the kind of lefty one-out specialist who might be adversely affected by the rule. Five of those appearances saw him end an inning, so the rule wouldn’t apply. Once he got no outs in three batters, so the rule wouldn’t apply. Another time he got one out to finish one inning and then got another out to start the next inning, so the rule wouldn’t apply.
There was one time he faced two batters and then was pulled mid-inning, so in that case the rule would have prevented him from leaving that outing.
Lefty Mike Zagurski also seems like the kind of pitcher who might be adversely affected by this rule, as he made 49 appearances and threw only 45 innings. He had 20 games where he threw less than an inning.
But in 10 of those 20 appearances, he faced three or more batters. In another eight appearances he ended the inning with less than three batters faced. So in his case, there were only two appearances where he faced less than three batters and then left the game mid-inning.
Long-time MLB lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski also picked his spots to pitch in Triple-A. He made 12 appearances but threw only 9.1 innings. In eight of his 12 appearances he threw less than one inning. He faced three or more batters in five of those eight relief stints. He also has another outing where he finished one inning and started the next before being relieved.
Rzepczynski had two appearances where he faced less than three batters and left mid-inning.
So for the entirety of the Pacific Coast League, which had 16 teams that all played 140-game schedules, I found five appearances by lefty specialists where the three-batter rule would have forced the manager to make a different decision and forced a pitcher to face another batter.
Admittedly, it’s possible that there are some other examples where a reliever who normally works longer stints was pulled after facing just one or two batters mid-inning, but those examples are also going to be few and far between.
Expanding the study to cover the Triple-A International League and the Double-A leagues would have likely found a few more examples, but very few. As rule changes go in the minors go, this is one that is going to go almost unnoticed.