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Mets: How the three batter minimum rule would have impacted past pitchers

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CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 08: Jerry Blevins #39 of the New York Mets pitches during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 8, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 08: Jerry Blevins #39 of the New York Mets pitches during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 8, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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MLB’s possible new “three batter minimum” rule for relief pitchers would not have worked out well for New York Mets pitchers of the past.

Major League Baseball is trying to speed up the National Pastime and one proposal is to require all pitchers to pitch to at least three batters or until the half-inning ends, whichever comes first. How will the New York Mets manage?

To demonstrate why this rule change is not the end of baseball as we know it, I will use old favorite Jerry Blevins as an example of how to take advantage of this concept.

Jerry Blevins in 2017

Ex-Met (Mex in Pig Latin?) Jerry Blevins was the most recent LOOGY over a whole season for the Mets. I broke down all his appearances and determined that only seven of 75 would have been disallowed under the new three-batter rule. (Play log information from FanGraphs.)

5/9/17 8th inning, Mets leading Giants 5-1

  • Blevins relieves Robles after Robles hits RHB Ruggiano with no outs
  • Blevins retires LHBs Panik and Belt (Blevins leaves with Mets having 99.2% chance to win)
  • Reed relieves Blevins and retires RHB Pence (inning ends with Mets having 99.6% chance to win)

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020 (* means what I would do)

Keep Blevins in to face Pence. If he retires Pence, the inning is over, if not, it’s okay to take him out since he faced three batters

*Bring Blevins in to face Ruggiano, Panik, and Belt

Either way, Mets are extremely likely to win.

5/14/17 7th inning, Mets lead Brewers 8-3

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

Leave in deGrom

*Keep Blevins in to face Hernan Perez. Whatever happens with Perez, Blevins can come out after facing three batters

Let Blevins start the inning against Domingo Santana and stay in to face Villar and Thames.

Start the inning with Salas

Salas, Edgin, and Reed imploded for five runs allowed in the 8th inning, so it’s unlikely that letting Blevins pitch to one more batter was the cause of the loss.

5/15/17 7th inning Mets tied with Arizona 1-1

  • Wheeler allows leadoff single to RHB Jeff Mathis
  • Blevins relieves and retires LHB David Peralta
  • Blevins allows a single to LHB Rey Fuentes, Mathis out at third, Fuentes to second
  • Robles relieves Blevins and retires RHP Chris Owings to end the inning still tied at 1-1

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

Keep Blevins in to face Owings with a runner on second and two outs, Goldschmidt on deck

*Use Blevins to start the inning against weak hitting RHB Mathis, followed by the two LHBs

Start the inning with Robles

7/7/17 8th inning, Mets up 6-4

  • Blevins starts the 8th and allows LHB Matt Carpenter to single
  • Sewald relieves Blevins and allows single to RHB Steven Piscotty, Carpenter to 2nd
  • Sewald allows fielder’s choice to switch hitter Dexter Fowler, Piscotty out at 2nd, Carpenter to 3rd and Fowler on 1st
  • Sewald allows SF to RHB Jedd Gyorko, Carpenter scores
  • Sewald retires RHB Yadier Molina to end the inning with score Mets 6 Cardinals 5
  • Mets win 6-5, Addison Reed gets a one-inning save

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

*Keep Blevins in to face Carpenter, Piscotty, and Fowler, bring in Sewald to face Gyorko and Molina (next batter is RHB Luke Voit in case Sewald lets Gyorko or Molina get on)

Start the inning with Sewald to face Carpenter, Piscotty, and Fowler (followed by several RHBs)

Use Reed to face the top of the order in the 8th and then use Sewald to face the weaker RHBs in the 9th

8/14/17 8th inning Mets and Yankees tied 2-2

  • Robles starts the inning and (shockingly!) allows switch hitter Aaron Hicks to homer (Yankees lead 3-2)
  • Robles retires RHB Aaron Judge
  • Blevins relieves to retire LHB Didi Gregorius
  • Goeddel relieves Blevins and allows Gary Sanchez to homer (Yankees lead 4-2)
  • Goeddel retires switch hitter Chase Headley to end the inning
  • Mets lose 4-2

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

*Blevins starts the 8th inning and faces Hicks, Judge, and Gregorius

Robles or Goeddel start the 8th inning and face Hicks, Judge, and Gregorius

Using the lefty to face a switch hitter, RHB, and LHB makes sense, and most likely would have gone at least as well as this fiasco, but my personal strategy would be to use your best reliever in the 8th inning of a tie game against the 2-3-4 batters.

Unfortunately, the Mets traded Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia was injured, so AJ Ramos was the closer at this point.

8/15/19 8th inning Yankees lead Mets 4-2

  • deGrom starts the inning and gives up a double to RHB Aaron Judge
  • deGrom allows LHB Didi Gregorius to single, moving Judge to 3B
  • deGrom lets Gary Sanchez hit a sacrifice fly, Judge scores (Yankees lead 5-2)
  • Blevins relieves and gives up a single to switch hitter Chase Headley, Gregorius to 2nd
  • Blevins retires LHB Jacoby Ellsbury
  • Chasen Bradford relieves and retires RHB Todd Frazier
  • Yankees win 5-4

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

Leave deGrom in to finish the inning

*Bring in Blevins to face Gregorius, Sanchez, and Headley (and Ellsbury if necessary)

Keep Blevins in to face Todd Frazier

9/23/19 8th inning Mets and Nationals signed 3-3

Mets options under proposed rule for 2020

Keep Blevins in to face Howie Kendrick

*Start inning with Jamie Callahan to face Murphy, Rendon, and Kendrick (and Taylor if necessary), keeping Blevins in reserve to face Stevenson if necessary, likely with two outs

Additional notes

Many folks are worried about the impact of this proposed rule. It is a change, and in some situations, it will change the outcome of the game. It will not remove the late-inning strategy, though, only change the options a bit.

The thing to remember is that both teams have to follow this rule. The Mets have Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, multi-inning relievers capable of getting out righties and lefties. Justin Wilson is not just a LOOGY, so this should not affect him much.

Just like any rule (new or old), the manager who uses it well will have the edge.

Other LOOGY examples

The New York Mets have employed several lefty specialists over the years, from Randy Niemann (1986) to late career Jesse Orosco to Jerry Blevins. Former Mets Jack DiLauro (1970 with the Houston Astros) and Darren Oliver (2010-2011 with the Texas Rangers) were successfully deployed as lefty specialists after leaving the Mets.

One of my favorite left-handed relievers for the Mets was Pedro Feliciano nicknamed The Perpetual Pedro for his frequent usage.

In 2007 Feliciano finished 10th in the NL with 78 games pitched. From 2008-2010 he led the league in appearances every year. His games and innings pitched:

53.1 IP in 86 games in 2008
59.1 IP in 88 games in 2009
62.2 IP in 92 games in 2010
And then his arm basically fell off. I hope the Mets learned that you can’t call on a reliever 90 times in a season no matter how few batters he faces.

All-time leaders in one batter, one out appearances

Mike Myers (1995-2007) — 206
Lopez (2003-16) — 198
Choate (2000-15) — 185
Jesse Orosco (1979-2003) — 164
Dan Plesac (1986-2003) — 130

Trending

Rob Schaefer’s article from The Ringer The LOOGY As Baseball Knows It Is Going Extinct is quoted here:

“So the LOOGY’s decline isn’t performance-based. Rather, the strategy that birthed the LOOGY has been cast aside in favor of a comprehensive bullpen dogma that has swept MLB over the past decade. This dogma is predicated on a deep and fortified bullpen, and the uniform deployment of relief pitchers. It’s a tactic that has recently found great results: The 2015 Royals rode a super-pen to a World Series title, and the 2018 Yankees have relied on one as a primary driver of their first-half success. Starters are averaging fewer innings per game than ever, the rate of pitchers used per game has been increasing for decades, and the average relief outing leaguewide has normalized at around one inning per appearance. In a sense, an already formulaic sport has never been so regimented.”

“’The game is so structured now. It’s all about getting your maximum effectiveness from your bullpen,’ baseball historian Steve Treder—and the sport’s highest-ranking LOOGY expert—explains. ‘The history of military strategy is a lot like this, that both sides keep improving their defenses until you reach sort of an impasse. We’re kind of at that point with bullpens.'”

“At a glance, you couldn’t script a better time to be a specialized reliever, but as octopean [eight man] bullpens have become the league norm, pitchers whose job is to record merely one out have become a relic. One-batter appearances for left-handed relievers ballooned in step with LOOGY deployment in 1992, peaking in 2011. But to this point in 2018, only 11.1 percent of outings by left-handed relievers have lasted one batter. That figure is a continuation of a four-year decline and is on par with rates from before the LOOGY was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the decades, as relief appearances of longer than an inning have regressed, one-inning outings have expanded gradually.”

For those fans and media who blame this proposed rule change on Millennials and MLB’s desire to recruit them into the baseball fanbase, I have news for you.

“Several more LOOGYs [(L)eft-handed (O)ne (O)ut (G)u(Y)] appeared each year through the late 1960s, and in both 1970 and 1971 there were eight LOOGY seasons, the most yet seen…. But across the decade of the 1970s and beyond, the LOOGY went into a long period of near-hiatus. Not until 1986 would there be as many LOOGYs deployed as there had been in 1971, and in one season (1975) the total dwindled to just two.
The 1970s are well-remembered as the decade in which the managerial fashion of handling starting pitchers went decidedly retro, with several starters (most notably Mickey LolichWilbur Wood, and Phil Niekro) racking up Games Started, Complete Games, and Innings Pitched totals which hadn’t been seen in decades. This was also the period in which ace relievers were given workloads never approached before or since; led by ironman Mike Marshall, several top relievers were throwing 130 or 140 innings or even more per season. It was a time of reversing the trends that had been gathering momentum for several decades, of shorter pitching stints and more specialized roles.” (by Steve Treder from A History of the LOOGY:  Part One) [see bibliography at the end of this post for more articles about LOOGYs]

In other words, using pitchers for at least three batters is not some new-fangled effort to grab the attention of young fans. It returns us, at least to some degree, to the baseball I grew up with in the 1970s.

In 1987 reliever usage veered towards more specialization, including LOOGYs and 9th-inning-only-closers. (If you want to know more about other bullpen specialists here is a thought-provoking article by Joe Posnanski on the setup man).

Bibliography:

The advantage of batting left-handed , by John Walsh from The Hardball Times

The LOOGY as baseball knows it is going extinct, by Rob Schaefer from The Ringer

A history of the LOOGY: Part One, by Steve Treder from The Hardball Times

A history of the LOOGY: Part Two, by Steve Treder from The Hardball Times

The men who pitch forever, by Ben Reiter from Sports Illustrated

LOOGY legends: Choate, Lopez left their marks, by Andrew Simon from MLB.com

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