Baseball officials are reportedly suggesting several changes in the game to the Major League Baseball Players Association in a continuing attempt to streamline and improve the game and pace of play. One change would require any pitcher to face at least three batters before he could be replaced by another hurler.
At first glance, this seems like a positive. Fewer bullpen moves would speed up the game and make for less late-game tedium when managers can overdo the matchup thing. No more pitchers getting roster spots as left-on-left guys. I’ll bet those pitchers are not in favor of this rule.
Maybe this means more pitchers would need to be proficient against both left- and right-handed batters. If you are going to pitch to more than one hitter, you better be equipped to handle lefties and righties.
But would this really be a good move and save that much time? When a report in The Athletic discussed some proposed changes, it was pointed out that 14.1 percent of relief appearances last year were for less than three batters. So this move would not impact a large amount of moves already made.
This would also be the first time that managers would not be able to make a change when they want to involving a pitcher, hitter, runner or fielder. Up until now, when they want to make a change, they do. This time, the new pitcher would have to face three hitters. No changes.
By the way, this is not baseball’s attempt to stop the use of an opener. Those pitchers start the game and are there to almost always pitch at least an inning anyway. So the plan is for them to face at least three batters already.
I see one potential red flag with this rule - injuries and the chance for or threat of an injury. You can’t make an injured pitcher stay in the game, so if this rule does get implemented, there will have to be some language accounting for this. If a pitcher blows out his elbow versus the first batter, you obviously can’t make him continue.
But here’s the rub: What if a pitcher complains of stiffness or soreness? You have to take him out for precautionary reasons, right? So teams can find ways to circumvent this rule. Face one batter and, ‘Hey look, he’s rubbing his right elbow, maybe we should take him out.’ Said pitcher returns to pitch the next day. That would raise a few eyebrows. But pitchers now come out for precautionary reasons that turn out to be nothing, they never go on the DL and they are back in another game soon. Sometimes the very next day.
How do you combat that?
The three-batter rule could potentially be a good one for baseball. But it also could potentially just open up more ways for someone to try and skirt a rule.
By the way, in this entry, MASNsports.com’s Mel Antonen wrote about several other rule changes that baseball officials are pondering.