New to Major League Baseball (MLB) for the 2020 season is a Three-Batter Minimum Rule for pitchers. When a relief pitcher enters the game, he is now required to face at least three batters or pitch until the end of the half inning before he can be replaced by another
New to Major League Baseball (MLB) for the 2020 season is a Three-Batter Minimum Rule for pitchers. When a relief pitcher enters the game, he is now required to face at least three batters or pitch until the end of the half inning before he can be replaced by another pitcher. The intention of this rule was to help reduce the length of baseball games, but there are also other benefits that can bring more thrill to the game of baseball. Where does this thrill begin? In the Minor Leagues and with the Charlotte Knights!
In 2019, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) and the International League (of which the Knights are a member) adopted the Three-Batter Minimum Rule to begin the process of eventually adding it to MLB. While many fans will appreciate the shortened game times, they have also come to enjoy the on-field results. Since 1991, the frequency of MLB teams using a left-handed specialist pitcher grew exponentially. Also referred to as a LOOGY (Left-Handed One-Out Guy), a left-handed specialist is a southpaw relief pitcher who enters the game to face a left-handed batter. He then exits the game when a right-handed batter comes to bat. A left-handed reliever typically faces only one batter in a game appearance. Use of left-handed relievers has been on a slight decline since 2015, but we can now expect their roles to change and expand with the addition of this new rule to the Major League Level.
Number of relief appearances that lasted no more than 2 batters in MLB since 1920. Starting with very limited use in the 1920s to near 2,500 annual short appearances in recent years prior to 2020. (Pitcher Mike Meyers with the 1995 Charlotte Knights)
Considered one of the most successful left-handed specialists since the expanded use of relief pitchers, former lefty Mike Myers (of no relation to Austin Powers or Wayne Campbell) made 883 appearances during his MLB career from 1995-2007 as a pitcher and logged only 541.2 innings - that’s an average of less than two outs per outing. Myers also pitched in 37 games for the Charlotte Knights in 1995 after making his MLB debut on April 25 with the Florida Marlins.
With the new Three-Batter-Minimum Rule in MLB, baseball may continue to see a decline in the use of left-handed specialists. Lefty relievers must now contend with staying in the game longer and potentially facing right-handed batters. Usually lost in the box scores, left-handed specialists are overlooked by fans and miss out on earning any wins or saves during games – key stats that fans like to compare among pitchers. Instead of just getting a crucial out, the lefty relievers are now having to secure multiple outs which can now put them in line for earning more stats.
The effects and benefits of the Three-Batter Minimum Rule result in managers relying on their left-handed relievers to stay in the game longer. An example of this took place in 2019 with the Charlotte Knights and relief pitcher Caleb Frare. With the rule in effect, Knights lefty Frare entered the June 7, 2019 Charlotte-Louisville game at Truist Field. With Charlotte tied 2-2, with two-outs in the top of the 7th and two men on base, Frare was called to face Louisville’s star player - left-hand hitting Brian O’Grady. Grady entered the game batting .324 with 15 home runs (in 50 games).
Frare performed as a typical left-handed specialist. Under the pressure of inheriting two men on base, Frare struck out O’Grady ending the 7th inning threat. But now having the trust of his manager, Frare remained in the game for the Knights to pitch the top of the 8th. Frare started the inning with a strikeout and pop up against two right-handed batters before ending the 8th striking out a lefty. Frare faced four batters and recorded four outs. In the bottom of the 8th, the Knights scored 2 runs to go on and beat the Louisville Bats 4-3. For his work in the 8th inning, Frare was awarded the win for the Knights.
While we may see fewer pitching changes and fewer left-handed specialist in baseball games with the Three-Batter Minimum Rule, we will also see more from the southpaw relievers - and hopefully more W’s in their pitching lines.