Boston Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke doesn’t believe that one of MLB’s new rule changes will have much of an affect on his bullpen.
Major League Baseball has taken steps toward their goal of reducing the length of games by implementing several new rule changes this season. One divisive change is the three-batter minimum rule that will force many teams to alter their bullpen strategy. Interim manager Ron Roenicke doesn’t anticipate the new rule having much of an affect on the Boston Red Sox.
The reason behind the rule is to reduce the number of pitching changes that can slow the pace of games to a crawl. No longer will we see a reliever come in for a batter or two before another commercial break interrupts the inning while we await a new pitcher to take the mound.
This is a welcome change from a fan perspective but it comes with negative consequences for certain players and teams. The “lefty specialist” is a role that essentially has become extinct. A pitcher whose splits dictate they are only effective against hitters from one side of the plate can no longer be trusted late in games and might be out of a job.
According to Masslive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Roenicke explained the versatility of his relievers will allow him to adapt to this rule change.
"“I don’t worry about (Hernandez and Taylor) but absolutely you’re going to set your bullpen differently because of that rule change,” he said. “The lefty who comes in to get one lefty out, it’s going to be tough to find a place on the roster where you know it’ll still work.”"
Roenicke was referring to Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor, the top left-handed candidates to begin the season in Boston’s bullpen. It’s clear that the manager doesn’t see this change as a threat to their roster spots, indicating he’s comfortable utilizing them against lefties and right-handed batters.
Whether or not these pitchers have earned that trust is debatable. We’ve only seen a glimpse of these relievers as rookies last year but both have noticeable left/right splits.
The splits were about as extreme as it gets for Hernandez. He was lights-out against lefties, holding them to a .089 average, .388 OPS and 3.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Right-handed hitters blasted Hernandez with a .319 AVG, .934 OPS and 1.43 K/BB.
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The massive gap between his success against lefties compared to right-handed bats didn’t push the Red Sox to treat Hernandez as a lefty specialist. He tallied 92 plate appearances against righties, nearly double the number of plate appearances in which he faced a lefty (55).
Hernandez pitched at least one full inning in 21 of 28 relief appearances. Five of those appearances where he lasted less than an inning came in September when roster expansion allowed managers to keep relievers on a shorter leash. Only once was Hernandez brought in to face one batter. That came in September when he recorded a strikeout to end the inning.
The door remains open for Hernandez to eventually return to the starting rotation so it would be counterproductive to turn him into a lefty specialist. That’s no longer a concern with this rule change preventing Hernandez from being put in that situation unless the opposing lineup happens to feature three consecutive lefties who they won’t pinch-hit for.
The splits are less drastic for Taylor but they are still apparent. He was solid against lefties, holding them to a .203 AVG, .559 OPS and 5.75 K/BB. He didn’t fare as well against right-handed hitters but still posted a serviceable .243 AVG, .692 OPS and 3.25 K/BB against them.
The Red Sox didn’t use Taylor exclusively as a lefty specialist but they certainly weren’t adhering to the three-batter minimum before the rule was put in place. Taylor logged less than a full inning in 19 of his 51 relief appearances. He faced fewer than three batters on nine occasions, only five of which came in September.
Roenicke won’t necessarily follow the same patterns that Alex Cora did managing his bullpen but the rule change will prevent him from getting too creative with mixing-and-matching relievers at the end of games.
While some pitchers may struggle to adjust to this new rule, the two lefties that the Red Sox are expected to lean on the most out of the bullpen shouldn’t see their roles change much.