To understand why Major League Baseball has announced that there will be a three-hitter minimum for each pitcher (lap or end of an inning) coming to the game in 2020, look beyond a White Sox / Angels game from and by July 23
To kick down the bottom of the eighth inning in Anaheim, Chicago Righty allowed Juan Minaya Albert Pujols to single on the left. Out came Chicago chief Rick Renteria, signaling to the bullpen for his fourth shot of the night.
1) Minaya allows Pujols to single.
Renteria signals a reliever. Two minutes and five seconds go before the next pitch.
2) Jace Fry comes in to relieve Minaya. He throws six seats, knocks out Shohei Ohtani.
Renteria signals a reliever.
3) Jeanmar Gomez comes in to alleviate Fry. He throws two places and makes Ian Kinsler appear.
Renteria signals a reliever. Four minutes and 1
"It's the empty bench Monday for the Angels and White Sox in the serial opener," said White Sox advertiser Jason Benetti, who Avilan went into. All in all, half the inning took 17 minutes and 24 seconds from Minaya's first pitch to Avilan's last. It breaks down to "7: 2 of baseball time and 10:22 of non-baseball time", with the latter including 6:14 for mid-inning commercials, 2:13 waiting for relievers to finish warming after returning from break and 1:55 for Renteria to go to the pile three times.
(You can see the complete compilation of inning here.)
This is an extreme example we give. This doesn't happen in every game every night. But this is the point of all this, sequences like this. Mid-inning pitching changes are a pest in pace, and the game. They stop the action and do not add anyone in return. The fewer of them we see the better.
More pots, more intermediate entrances
In 2018 there were 799 different pots that would be displayed in a game, a new full-time record. This is a record that has been broken every year since 2013, not surprisingly. If we go back to 1998, the first year of the 30s, there were 557 pots, which occur in 4,864 games. For two decades, in almost as many games, the number of pots per game has increased by 2.6, from 6.1 to 8.7.
It won't change, most of the time. Starters will not suddenly throw 300 innings again. It does not happen. But the increase in pots, or more accurately relievers, has also increased the amount of increase changed .
If we just look at the number of reliefs that have been expecting at most two smiths, we can see it has also changed massively. Before World War II, there were usually fewer than 200 such appearances throughout sport. As late as 2004, we were in total 2000 appearance. Now we are routinely in the range of 2,300 to 2,500.
In games per game, it is not really that strong, of course, because the number of teams and games has increased both over time and with that perception less than once per game happens. It is also true that the percentage of relief events, as the two abusers or less have actually gone down in recent years, but it is also a function of so many, many more general reliefs. As a raw total, there are more than ever.
If there is an argument that this rule changes the game too much, it may not be wrong, but the point is that the game has changed significantly. Whatever you think "the right point in baseball history was", the game does not look like in 2019. Years ago, there were no games with eight relievers. There were no pots in for just one batter or two. If anything, it could make baseball look a bit more like it used to. Change, good or bad, always happens.
What we showed above was simply "two-stroke or less relief", because it's a good way to show this effect over time, but it's not exactly the rule. As stated in the rules, it will actually be a requirement for a potter to face "either at least three infections or at the end of a half inning".
So, how much impact will this actually have? as much as you would think.
How much will this actually change things?
We have to divide this into "zero-relief games, one or two beats where the inning is completed," which releases the reliever from the requirement to remain and "where the inning is not finished," for it is now important. Looking back over the past 20 seasons, we can see that the number of reliefs that do not extend to three strokes has increased significantly … but the number of appearances where a pot did so and to the end of the inning has not.
We are basically looking at about 800 or so of these soon-to-be-banned relief events each year, plus a slight impact on the length of the "more open" look, since we're just looking at relievers for that data. Although it has not changed significantly over time, it is still remarkable. There are 26 weeks in a Major League Baseball season, and we saw 779 of these appearances in 2018. It's about 28 times a week, or about one per team per week. It is not much. It's not something.
As Matt Eddy from Baseball America showed, we have already seen a slight increase in the batter against any relief, probably in part, because if starters throw fewer innings, you need a little longer relievers to pick up slack.
Don't cry for LOOGY. He's already dead.
The counting rate against each relief has climbed steadily over the past four seasons. pic.twitter.com/GccQViuXAr
– Matt Eddy (@MattEddyBA) March 14, 2019
The result here may be to hurt LOOGY types – these are "left-handed single guys" – like Andrew Chafin or Jerry Blevins, but it probably increases the value of the relievers who can go on multiple battles without large platon records, such as Josh Hader or Andrew Miller.
It doesn't end strategy, it changes it.
A common argument against this view is that it limits the strategy because the managers will no longer go through the chess game that we described above in the White Sox / Angels game. Whether it's a good or bad thing is up to your own interpretation, but it can't be true either.
Think of this hypothetical situation: There are two outs and men on. The next three smiles turn left / right / right. The manager has two interesting options …
A) Take in his ace left killer to try to finish the inning. In this scenario, he tries to stop inning immediately knowing that his pitcher is more likely to take out the first hitter, but may be weaker against the two following.
B) Take in a better overall pot. In this scenario, he puts out a pots with a worse chance of getting out the first hitter, but a better chance of coming out the two two that he would be forced to face.
Of course, it is possible to squeeze in opportunities for this too, which further affects the manager's decision. The strategy will not go away. It will only be different. Lefties will not go either, because you will not take a left to face a Cubs group of Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, for example. There will only be different lefties, those who can do more than one thing.
We can look at which teams will be the biggest too.
There is an interesting wide spread there, from 52 from the Indians – – Thank you very much to Perez, who was pulled from a soon-widened appearance 19 times – all the way down to Marlins, who did it only seven times.
Now it is fair to say that there is another way to get to this. You can argue for a penalty, say a ball is added to the bill, for a mid-inning pitching change, or just a limit to those changes altogether. These ideas also work. But no one argues that it is fun to sit through a stream of changes where the boss slowly goes to the garden, the telecast can break and minutes pass without a pitch. This will not solve all problems. It will fix the problem . That which alone makes it worthwhile.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and hosts Statcast's podcast.