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The 3-batter minimum for relievers is coming, and it’s going to be bad for baseball

Unintended consequences, you know.

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MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred have been tweaking baseball rules over the last few seasons in an effort to improve the pace of play.

Truth be told, the two major things that have been done in this regard — the automatic intentional walk and the reduction in mound visits — have shaved seconds off game times, not minutes. The one thing that could really help this — a pitch clock — they refuse to do. (The automatic IBB — the one I’ve dubbed “The Manfred” — has had one unintended consequence: Intentional walks as a whole are at an all-time low and the Astros in 2019 became the first team ever to go through an entire season without issuing one. That is, until they did it in Game 2 of the World Series and it backfired on them.)

Now MLB is apparently about to implement another proposal designed to “fix” pace of play:

Here’s what I wrote about this last month, and I stand by it:

For example, let’s say a reliever whose name sounds a bit like “Cish Stevek” comes in and walks the first two batters of the inning, clearly unable to command the strike zone. (Here’s a 2019 game where the reliever whose name is similar to the above did exactly that, and it wound up blowing the game for the Cubs.)

Under the old rule, a manager could take such a pitcher out of the game. Now, you have to leave the guy in. I don’t like this rule, as it takes away the ability of a manager to manage his pitching staff the way he sees fit.

I suppose I’d be more okay with it if it were a two-batter minimum rather than a three-batter minimum. Games are going to be lost because of this rule (and at that point, it would likely be changed). Regardless, for the Cubs and other teams, if instituted as written above this rule will likely change some pitchers’ roles and change the way the bullpen is constituted.

Managers are going to hate this, and remember where you heard it first: This is going to cost teams games.

If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe national baseball writer Tom Verducci, who has written an excellent article on this topic (with charts!) showing that this proposed rule change will not only not be helpful, it might actually be harmful to the game:

• Relief appearances of one or two batters are going down, not up. They have gone down three of the past four years. In 2019 they fell 16% from just four years ago, reaching an 11-year low. That’s not the definition of a problem.

• One-batter relief appearances in 2019 reached a 13-year low. They are down 21% from just four years ago. In that time teams stopped matching up based on handedness and relied on micro-data such as pitch and swing paths. The Astros didn’t even carry a lefthander in the World Series. “Analytics have created a real shift away from those one-batter kinds of matchups,” said one veteran manager. “The value of having the one-batter guy just isn’t there.”

• The proposed rule would eliminate one mid-inning pitching change every three or four games. That’s it. Total time per game “saved” over a year: 44 seconds. Are you telling me you would take away the manager’s right to do what’s best to win the game just to get rid of one pitching change every three or four games?

Verducci goes on to describe some situations from the 2019 postseason where managers would have been forced to leave ineffective relievers in games if this rule had been in effect at that time. Just wait till this happens in the 2020 postseason. You’ll be able to hear Twitter explode from wherever you are.

He also notes that pitchers are dawdling between pitches more than ever before, and also writes about the real issue that Manfred refuses to deal with:

In 10 years, with slightly fewer such short appearances, time of game went up 15 minutes. Why? Because of the increased dawdling between pitches by pitchers and batters. Full stop.

Now you know the real problem. Players have added 2.9 seconds between pitches in just 10 years. At 302 pitches per game, that’s 14 to 15 minutes of pure nothingness added to a baseball game.

The pitch clock is the correct answer. As Verducci wrote: “Full stop.”

Tinkering isn’t working, Rob Manfred. Do what needs to be done and stop messing with strategy. Institute the pitch clock. Full stop.