In 2020, Major League Baseball will change its rules to require pitchers to face a minimum of three batters (with some exceptions, natch).
As with any change to the game of baseball, some folks love it, some folks hate it, some folks are ambivalent. The Indians employ a bevvy of specialist relievers, and thus seem to have a lot at stake in this rule change. In fact, as detailed by Mike Petriello of MLB.com, the Indians had the most short relief appearances (0, 1, or 2 batters faced) in 2018.
The relievers throwing those short outings have opinions like the rest of us, of course, and The Athletic’s T. J. Zuppe was so kind as to gather them for us.
In his article, one of the strongest voices presented was that of Adam Cimber, the submarine-slinging righty that actually fares better against right-handed hitters. He told The Athletic:
“As a reliever that is somewhat of a specialty, I would say it’s a frustrating rule change,” Cimber said. “After thinking about it a little bit, (matchups were) sort of like promoting our best brand of baseball. Why are we taking away from potentially the best matchups that that game at that time can provide?
“Somebody’s big hitter up there. Wouldn’t you want the best pitcher on the mound? Isn’t that the best brand of baseball? Instead of just leaving somebody in for the sake of saving time, that doesn’t seem like the competitive spirit that baseball wants to promote.”
But would the current group of Tribe relievers fare so poorly pitching against their splits?
Perhaps ironically, Cimber might benefit from being forced to face more left-handed hitters.
Yes, in 2018, lefties hit .324/.432/.630 with a .420 wOBA against him, whereas righties hit .235/.273/.337 with a .263 wOBA. But when you break down Cimber’s numbers a little more granularly, a different image emerges. The obvious small sample size caveat exists, as it does for any single season for any reliever, but there’s something to be said for Cimber’s first and second half split. With almost the same number of batters faced, second half righties (his specialty) hit Cimber almost identical as first half lefties (his weakness).
Adam Cimber splits
|1st half, LHH||69||0.288||0.391||0.569||0.388|
|1st half, RHH||132||0.207||0.221||0.261||0.210|
|2nd half, LHH||19||0.467||0.579||0.867||0.561|
|2nd half, RHH||73||0.288||0.361||0.477||0.354|
As I mentioned back in September, Cimber’s stuff had been falling lower in the zone since his trade to Cleveland, and an adjustment to work higher could be a benefit for him. If his numbers reverted back to what they were in San Diego, Cimber would not be a terrible option against either side.
Likewise, Oliver Perez stands out as a pitcher who would suffer less than anticipated by the rule change. It should be noted that he posted a career high in fWAR (as a reliever) in 2018 (at age 36!), and some regression should be expected, but his splits tell a story different than his LOOGY reputation.
Oliver Perez splits
|2018 vs LHH||65||0.191||0.215||0.274||0.213|
|2018 vs RHH||55||0.104||0.218||0.104||0.138|
|2010-18 vs LHH||657||0.230||0.315||0.351||0.299|
|2010-18 vs RHH||813||0.246||0.354||0.406||0.329|
Since 2010, roughly when he moved to the bullpen full-time, Perez has been better versus lefties, but only slightly. Last year, of course, he stifled righties better than lefties. It’s hard to predict that happening again in 2019, but it wouldn’t be hard to trust him against any hitter based on those numbers.
The last most obvious specialist in the Tribe pen is Tyler Olson, and, well, his reputation is deserved. If anyone should be sweating the rule change, it’s Olson, as his livelihood could be at stake.
Tyler Olson splits
|2018 vs LHH||60||0.182||0.250||0.345||0.261|
|2018 vs RHH||58||0.314||0.397||0.529||0.387|
|Career vs LHH||134||0.192||0.280||0.331||0.269|
|Career vs RHH||139||0.306||0.399||0.487||0.365|
Every single category has a split of >100 favoring right-handed hitters. Olson, simply, is a guy who you cannot trust facing a righty; hitters on the right side looked like 2018 Paul Goldschmidt (.290/.389/.533, .390 wOBA) and those on the left looked like 2018 Jose Reyes (.189/.260/.320, .255 wOBA) when facing Olson. Unless his splits change dramatically in 2019, his role moving forward is not viable.
Among other bullpen arms, the splits are not as substantial and a three-batter minimum would not seem to register. Dan Otero has always struggled against lefties, but Otero has sustained a seven-year career with those numbers, so he’s likely able to continue to have a similar amount of success (or fall off a cliff because WTF does anyone really know about relievers year to year). Neil Ramirez should also not encounter too much trouble should he be forced to face more lefties, as his career splits are fairly even.
Other reliever splits
|Otero 18 vs LHH||95||0.333||0.347||0.645||0.414|
|18 vs RHH||152||0.260||0.289||0.432||0.305|
|Career vs LHH||639||0.285||0.327||0.424||0.321|
|Career vs RHH||888||0.254||0.278||0.370||0.277|
|Ramirez 18 vs LHH||68||0.214||0.358||0.473||0.356|
|18 vs RHH||112||0.233||0.295||0.447||0.319|
|Career vs LHH||280||0.223||0.355||0.417||0.335|
|Career vs RHH||397||0.229||0.305||0.424||0.315|
Overall, this would certainly represent a change to strategy, but a small one, and likely a good one in terms of keeping the game moving. Which makes worry and concern about a three-batter minimum among Tribe relievers seem to be overblown. Unless Tyler Olson is everyone’s best friend, that is.