It's not a terribly popular topic, if you gauge the reactions of fans, pitchers and analysts on MLB Network Radio, but the 3 batter rule is probably coming anyway... so how might the Atlanta Braves handle this?
Given how the Atlanta Braves started off with their relievers in 2019, I'd shudder to think how such a rule would have impacted the season. At times, it wasn't good regardless as many batters were added up thanks to excessive walks.
The relief pitching role has morphed over the years with some pitching developing more of a specialization role that has limited their use to 1 or 2 hitters at a time... hence the impetus that has brought us to this point.
Adam Kolarek of the Rays and Dodgers, for example, led the majors in 2019 with 42 game appearances in which he faced 2 batters or less (out of 80 total games).
He also led the majors in 1 batter appearances - that happened twenty-eight times. That might make things a little trickier for Kolarek and the Dodgers in 2020.
Happily, this is not a leaderboard that the Atlanta Braves has a lot of competitors for. Jerry Blevins had 11 single-batter appearances - that ties for 9th most in the majors (9th through 14th places).
His 2-or-batters-or-fewer stints numbered 18. That next closest was Dan Winkler with 9. At this point, neither pitcher is with the club any longer.
As a team, the Braves combined for 87 instances of relievers entering games and then throwing to 2 batters or fewer in 2019. Despite the numbers above, that's the 7th highest among all teams.
For now, we'll attribute that to sheer poor performance early on in 2019, for there's another interesting number: the times in which a Braves' relief pitcher threw to 3 batters or more. That number is 489, which ranked 13th most in baseball.
From these figures, we'd have to conclude that there was a will to have bullpen players go further into each inning they throw... but funny things happen along the way, of course.
-- All of the data cited comes courtesy of the baseball-reference.com play index.
So we've talked about this new rule and assumed that the Braves' relief corps might be well-equipped to handle this, but let's now look at the next level: what about their actual experiences?
Here they are, with outings in which 3+ batters were involved and total game appearances for the seasons 2018 and 2019:
- Shane Greene: 129 instances (5th in majors) out of 131 total game appearances
- In 92 of these, he faced no more than 4 batters (2nd in majors)
- Will Smith: 133 instances (38th) out of 117 total game appearances
- 83 times, 4 or fewer batters (tie 12th in majors)
- Mark Melancon: 100 instances (70th) out of 107 total game appearances
- Chris Martin: 99 instances (74th) out of 104 total game appearances
- Luke Jackson: 95 instances of 105 total games appearances
- A.J. Minter: 96 instances of 101 total game appearances
- Sean Newcomb: 44 instances as a reliever out of 52 total relief appearances
- Darren O'Day: 22 instances of 28 total appearances*
This list doesn't predict results - '3 or more' could mean 'a lot more' - but the point here is that the Braves have a bunch of relievers who are used to facing 3+ batters at a time.
Knowing they are all also pretty good at their craft does make an excellent combination.
*A Note of Concern
The asterisk next to Darren O'Day entry raises a note of caution. When he was finally able to pitch again, the Braves brought him along slowly - very slowly.
If that rule change had happened during 2019, then O'Day might never have been able to get back to the field since the minor leagues were done by that point and thus 'rehab appearances' were not available.
That's a real issue with this rule: it essentially demands that relievers returning from injury must be fully ready before making a game appearance, and teams would prefer to have these guys build up their workload more slowly.
Hopefully that doesn't cause healthy pitchers to become re-injured... all in the name of saving a couple of minutes.