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Rocco Baldelli and the Three-Batter Minimum

The broad assumption, since MLB's newest rule on in-game strategy was announced, has been that specialists will go extinct because of it. That might not be true; they might just have to live closer to the edge.
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
The 2020 Minnesota Twins are unlikely to carry a true matchup reliever, of either handedness. The pitchers closest to that profile, among those likely to make the roster, are veterans Sergio Romo (a righty who's tougher on righties) and Tyler Clippard (a righty who's famously tougher on lefties), but even they aren't extreme in this regard. However, despite a new rule that makes such hurlers harder to use, Rocco Baldelli might find he can occasionally escape a sticky situation by embracing platoon matchups in key moments, if he's willing to stomach a bit more risk.

With the advent of the three-batter minimum rule in 2020, the role of matchup relief arms will, inevitably, diminish. The rule requires any pitcher who enters a game to face at least three batters, or to reach the end of an inning. It's been called the death of the LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), among other things, since it was first floated last spring. Paired with a rule that will firmly cap the number of pitchers on a roster at a given time at 13, and with longer option periods when pitchers are farmed out to bring up someone fresh, the three-batter minimum does incentivize a greater emphasis on durability and versatility among relievers.

However, the rule changes have been slightly oversold as a death knell for the matchup guy. The second clause of the rule — "or to reach the end of an inning" — has been underrated as a carrot for the aggressive manager to chase. Last season, Baldelli showed that he belongs to the small class of new-age managers who are willing to take tactical risks, when the odds favor it. He could put that mentality to use to get the most out of his bullpen under new constraints in 2020.

Say there are two outs, and an exceptionally tough left-handed hitter is due for the opposing team. It's the seventh inning of a one-run game, and there are two runners on base. Behind that slugging left-handed stick (perhaps Chicago's Yasmani Grandal) lurk a pair of right-handers with similar thunder (José Abreu and Edwin Encarnación, maybe). The White Sox's bullpen is pretty sturdy, these days, so it's important to hold on to the slim lead.

In such a situation, Baldelli might be tempted to call on Taylor Rogers, as he sometimes did in 2019, and to then stretch Rogers through at least the eighth frame. That creates a long path to the end of the game, though. If he's feeling a bit more risk-averse, in light of the new rule, he might turn to Tyler Duffey or Trevor May, who are each split-neutral. Let's imagine, though, that only one of the two is available that night. That would leave someone further down the depth chart to pitch the eighth, or that same setup man to come back out, and maybe even Rogers to stretch out across multiple innings, too.

If he were willing to roll the dice a bit, though, Baldelli could try something else: inserting Clippard. It's not ideal, in the sense that if Clippard should fail to get Grandal, he'd then be stuck in the game to face two tough right-handed batters. Clippard isn't as strong against righties; that would lead to a bit of a spiral. On the other hand, outside of Rogers, there's no single reliever in the Twins bullpen more likely to get Grandal out — and, thereby, to end the threat and become eligible to leave the game before the Sox come up to bat in the eighth — than Clippard.

Managers will have to accept some risk of a snowball effect, whenever they try this kind of matchup management, from now on. However, that doesn't mean they shouldn't sometimes try it. In pivotal moments, if there's an optimal matchup against one or two particular batters, Baldelli should accept the downside in order to raise the likelihood of what is, already, the technically more likely event: getting out of the jam unscathed and regaining full flexibility for the following inning.

Ron Gardenhire won't deploy this strategy. Nor will Mike Matheny, or even Terry Francona or Rick Renteria. In the AL Central, there will suddenly be a massive extinction event for matchup baseball in the middle and late innings, at least outside Minnesota. If Baldelli can sometimes accept the risk involved — if he's willing to raise the chances of a catastrophic unwinding by one percent in order to raise the chances of the best possible outcome by three or four percent, when that was already perhaps 65-percent likely — he'll give the Twins a clear strategic advantage in close contests throughout the campaign.

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25 Comments

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Aerodeliria
Feb 26 2020 09:49 PM

Frankly, I don't like this rule as it affects baseball strategy at the core. I was really surprised it won the day; I assumed that the pitch timer would be instilled, which is something I think anyone could live with. I hope there are mega-complaints about the rule following this season...

I am in favor of the three batter/end of inning rule. It's a compromise between the era when starting pitchers threw 300+ innings per season vs. 200 innings as it is now. I also think the infield shift should be addressed.Each infield position should be set according to defined parameters. The best defensive players know how to position their opponent which is more valuable and more interesting than calling for the full shift.

    • SarasotaBill, nokomismod, h2oface and 1 other like this

I really like the 3 batter minimum/ end of inning rule.  I hate the pitch clock and I like the shifts.  Teach well rounded players which appears to be more coming up.  
 

I wish the umpires would enforce the batters box rules.  Stay in the box!  If you step all the way out for no reason call a strike.  Guys what guys will stay in the batters box!  Will cause more and quicker action.  

Good OP! I agree, the managers that have the guts to more regularly stretch relievers an extra out will succeed with the new rule. Managers that cling to the traditional reliever roles may struggle

Ok, in 4 posts we've got like the shift, don't like the shift. Like the new rule, don't like the new rule. Like the pitch clock, don't like the pitch clock.My vote is for all three. If the next one that posts is against all 3 that would be about right.

    • woolywoolhouse likes this

I'm a fan of the 3-batter minimum. What gets annoying in games is when 3 pitching changes are made in a single inning. I think it also adds depth to the strategy of deploying your bullpen, not takes it away. No more LOOGY easy button.

 

I also dislike shifts. There's nothing exciting about a liner through/over the dirt getting picked and throwing the guy out at first from a shallow outfield. I hate that. Now, that doesn't mean I'd want to ban it, but do think the area an infielder can start should be loosely defined, and I'd like to see that not include the outfield. I'm okay with shifts being geared to cut off ground balls, but not your textbook line-drive singles. 

    • Dantes929 likes this

It's also interesting to consider how other teams are building bullpens, look at Cleveland for example. Two of their top relievers are Adam Cimber and Oliver Perez. Both get absolutely demolished by opposite handed hitters, and having two relievers like this could easily lose Cleveland some tight games since both were used in one or two out situations last year. 

 

I said it back in December, Falvey and Levine have done a great job of getting "out getters" in this bullpen instead of spending money and roster spots on specialists. 

 

I also dislike shifts. There's nothing exciting about a liner through/over the dirt getting picked and throwing the guy out at first from a shallow outfield. I hate that. Now, that doesn't mean I'd want to ban it, but do think the area an infielder can start should be loosely defined, and I'd like to see that not include the outfield. I'm okay with shifts being geared to cut off ground balls, but not your textbook line-drive singles. 

Eliminate or inhibit shifting and further encourage/reward batters for trying to pull and launch every pitch, in every count, against every pitcher, and in every game situation? If you don't exact the maximum price for that approach, we're going to see even more of it. Ever more of the 3-true-outcome offensive approach. Diversity of offensive style/skill will go from dying to completely dead. No thanks.

 

Back to the new rule...

I think you'll see managers start to do some other non-traditional things. For instance, in your scenario...I would expect we will start seeing some instances where the left-handed batter is intentionally walked even if it means putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. I also think, in some scenarios, we will see intentional walks as the play for the 3rd batter. I think it will prove to be a drop in the bucket for impacting the length-of-game issue. Too many other things are contributing to that.

    • DocBauer likes this
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stringer bell
Feb 27 2020 11:04 AM
Using the rules as they existed last year, the Twins’ bullpen was very durable and more effective as the year progressed. I would expect Rocco to continue to make moves that keep everyone fresh. If the current bullpen stays healthy , they should be effective, no matter what rules are in place.
    • Blake likes this

 

Eliminate or inhibit shifting and further encourage/reward batters for trying to pull and launch every pitch, in every count, against every pitcher, and in every game situation? If you don't exact the maximum price for that approach, we're going to see even more of it. Ever more of the 3-true-outcome offensive approach. Diversity of offensive style/skill will go from dying to completely dead. No thanks.

 

Honestly, I believe shifting was born out of encouraging batters to try and pull and launch every pitch, not the other way around. I think the premise is the opposite of what you're arguing.

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South Dakota Tom
Feb 27 2020 01:18 PM

 

Honestly, I believe shifting was born out of encouraging batters to try and pull and launch every pitch, not the other way around. I think the premise is the opposite of what you're arguing.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but I think you both are saying the same thing.  Shifting started gaining prominence when all batters tried to pull everything, all the time.  Eliminating shifting will just encourage that pull-happy style even more, and I (like you both) don't like that.  Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew - those are my guys. Hit 'em where they ain't.    

 

    • Steve Lein and Melissa like this
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Ebby Calvin Laloosh
Feb 27 2020 01:26 PM

I have a question about the new rule. Can a guy be put in, get the third out in an inning then start the next inning and only face one batter? I can't imagine that situation will come up that often but what happens? Does he only have to face two batters because he ended an inning even though the end of the inning isn't when he was pulled?

I like it.The point in the game where we start going from reliever to reliever to reliever is boring.The to make the change, the 8 warmup pitches - yuck. It reminds of basketball and the foul game that makes the last two minutes last 10 and I hate basketball.

    • SQUIRREL and Steve Lein like this

 

I have a question about the new rule. Can a guy be put in, get the third out in an inning then start the next inning and only face one batter? I can't imagine that situation will come up that often but what happens? Does he only have to face two batters because he ended an inning even though the end of the inning isn't when he was pulled?

 

The rule doesn't state this scenario from what I've seen, so I would assume it is taken care of by the pitcher has "pitched to the end of a half-inning" portion and he could be removed at any time beyond that.

    • SQUIRREL and South Dakota Tom like this

The rule doesn't state this scenario from what I've seen, so I would assume it is taken care of by the pitcher has "pitched to the end of a half-inning" portion and he could be removed at any time beyond that.


I think you are correct. However, since he finished that inning, could he start the next inning and then be removed at any time? I believe if he started the next inning he now falls under the 3 batter qualification, yes?
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The Wise One
Feb 27 2020 05:17 PM

 

I have a question about the new rule. Can a guy be put in, get the third out in an inning then start the next inning and only face one batter? I can't imagine that situation will come up that often but what happens? Does he only have to face two batters because he ended an inning even though the end of the inning isn't when he was pulled?

The rule states end of inning or 3 batters.If the pitcher goes past the end of the inning then the pitcher needs to face 3 batters in total. The exception to this rule is going to be if the second batter is an Astro and you hit them. They are not going to let you hit 2

    • big dog, DocBauer, Dakota Diver and 1 other like this
If Rocco isn't afraid to ad risk, in the above scenario, they could bring in the best righty option and walk Grandal. Also, what happens if a pitcher has an injury (real or not) before facing the minimum batters?
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South Dakota Tom
Feb 27 2020 11:55 PM

 

The rule doesn't state this scenario from what I've seen, so I would assume it is taken care of by the pitcher has "pitched to the end of a half-inning" portion and he could be removed at any time beyond that.

Isn't it either/or?If a guy finishes an inning with one batter, he can face just one more the next inning because he has fulfilled one of the criteria?

    • SQUIRREL and Steve Lein like this
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South Dakota Tom
Feb 27 2020 11:58 PM

 

 

Isn't it either/or?If a guy finishes an inning with one batter, he can face just one more the next inning because he has fulfilled one of the criteria?

Upon more careful consideration, I think we are saying the same thing....oops.

    • Steve Lein likes this
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twinsfaninsaudi
Feb 28 2020 05:29 AM
Unlike say soccer, and at times football, baseball has never had a tradition of flopping and faking injuries. Could this be the beginning? Cause if Grandal gets on in that situation I’m wanting Clippard to hit the grass.

 

I think you are correct. However, since he finished that inning, could he start the next inning and then be removed at any time? I believe if he started the next inning he now falls under the 3 batter qualification, yes?

 

To question 1: Yes, I'm saying because he fulfilled the "pitch to the end of a half-inning" part he can be removed whenever the next inning.

 

To question 2: I think they would have to include such wording in the rule for that to be the case, and it's not there (from what I've seen).

It is strange though, as you could easily apply my assumptions to the 3-batter part instead of the end-of-the-inning if the guy comes back out... I've read about 30 articles/etc... on the rule, and am astonished I haven't seen this scenario discussed. 

    • SQUIRREL likes this
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KalamazooTwin
Feb 28 2020 09:29 PM

 

To question 1: Yes, I'm saying because he fulfilled the "pitch to the end of a half-inning" part he can be removed whenever the next inning.

 

To question 2: I think they would have to include such wording in the rule for that to be the case, and it's not there (from what I've seen).

I would have thought you were right, but according to baseballrulesacademy.com we were both wrong.They say, "To qualify as one of three consecutive batters, the batter must complete his plate appearance, which ends only when the batter is put out or becomes a runner. If the offensive team is put out prior to any substitute pitcher completing his first three consecutive batters, the pitcher may be removed from the game between innings; but, if he returns for the subsequent inning, he must complete pitching to as many batters as necessary to satisfy the three consecutive batters requirement, which total would include any batters that completed a plate appearance with that pitcher the prior inning (i.e., if he completed 0 PA in inning 1, he must complete 3 PA in inning 2; if he completed 1 PA in inning 1, he must complete 2 PA in inning 2; if he completed 2 PA in inning 1, he must complete 1 PA in inning 2). An intentional walk counts toward fulfilling the number of required batters. Picking off a runner does not fulfill the minimum batter requirement, but would permit the early removal of the pitcher if the out recorded by the pickoff ends the inning."

    • Steve Lein, DocBauer and Melissa like this

I think you are correct. However, since he finished that inning, could he start the next inning and then be removed at any time? I believe if he started the next inning he now falls under the 3 batter qualification, yes?


I would think that once he finishes an inning he could be removed at any time following that since he has past one of the qualifiers to be removed and that starting another inning shouldn’t change that.
    • Sconnie likes this

I would think that once he finishes an inning he could be removed at any time following that since he has past one of the qualifiers to be removed and that starting another inning shouldn’t change that.

I read it the same way. My strategy in this scenario would be to try to have more relievers get 4-6 outs and try to avoid starting a clean inning.