Rule changes and the White Sox: The three-batter minimum

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be looking at the rule changes Major League Baseball is set to enact over the next couple of seasons to see whether they stand a chance of changing the way the White Sox do business.

The most dramatic alterations attempt the counteract the increased reliance on bigger bullpens, targeting both mid-inning pitching changes and the endless parade of September mound visits.

One rule is in writing, and set to take effect for the 2020 season:

• Minimum Number of Batters for Pitchers: The Office of the Commissioner will implement an amended Official Baseball Rule 5.10(g) requiring that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or the end of a half-inning (with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness). The Players Association has agreed that it will not grieve or otherwise challenge the Office of the Commissioner’s implementation of the amended Rule 5.10(g).

There’s also a proposed rule to limit rosters to 13 pitchers when the 26-man roster is implemented next year, and 14 pitchers in September, when rosters can be expanded to 28 players maximum. We’ll tackle expanded and limited rosters later this week.

Some have pooh-poohed the effect of a three-batter minimum at this time, because the league is trending away from such limited outings …

… and true LOOGY appearances peaked a decade ago:

Plus, there’s the fact that relievers can face fewer than three batters if they record the third out before then. Should specialists convert enough inning-ending outs, the impact of this rule change might not really register.

But specific to the White Sox, this one strikes at the heart of Rick Renteria’s 2018 managerial style.

Renteria helicopter-parented his bullpen last year, especially during a fortnight across late July and early August. Mike Petriello of singled out a July 23 game against the Angels in which Renteria chewed up 10 minutes of a 17-minute half-inning with three pitching changes.

But that was the first of a series of such innings, and it peaked on an Aug. 5 game during the Rays. In the seventh inning of that one, Tampa Bay had the bases loaded, and each Ray was the responsibility of a different White Sox reliever.

  • Third base: Jake Bauers (Xavier Cedeno)
  • Second base: Ji-Man Choi (Jeanmar Gomez)
  • First base: Kevin Kiermaier (Jace Fry)
  • At the plate: Carlos Gomez (Tyler Danish)

It’s true that the league is zagging away from such specialized outings, but Renteria is steering straight into the storm. There was only one manager who relied on matchups more than Renteria, and I bet you can guess who it is.


Wait for it…


Yep, Terry Francona, who beat Renteria in one-batter outings both overall (65) and non-September games (53). The Indians and White Sox didn’t have much company, at least before rosters expanded and turned bullpens into casting calls.

Here’s a chart with teams ranked by the number of one-batter outings by relievers over the first five months of the season, a more stable gauge of management style:

ALTotalSept.First 5NLTotalSept. First 5
AL AVG34.67.826.8NL AVG41.911.330.6
w/o Sox32.87.625.1    

So yes, this rule change does seem to target Renteria and Francona more than anybody else.

However, this rule change might only target the 2018 versions of both managers.

  • Renteria, 2018: 50 one-batter outings before September
  • Renteria, 2017: 27 one-batter outings before September
  • Francona, 2018: 53 one-batter outings before September
  • Francona, 2017: 29 one-batter outings before September

In 2017, both managers had a bevy of terrific relievers qualified to handle full innings. The Sox traded David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and Dan Jennings, while the Indians retained their 7-8-9 combo of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

The Sox didn’t try to restock all their lost relievers, while the Indians let Shaw go without replacing him and lost Miller to injury for chunks of the 2018 season. With a shortage of bona fide high-leverage options, the skippers were left to scramble.

Renteria’s staring down another grueling rebuilding season, but the White Sox tried to lighten his load in this regard. By trading for Alex Colome and signing Kelvin Herrera, Renteria shouldn’t have to desperately mix-and-match to preserve leads in the late innings.

Colome seems sound, but with Herrera coming off an injury-abbreviated season, certain Sox players could do more this spring to make this outcome feel more assured. Jace Fry, a lefty reliever who gained Renteria’s trust against right-handed hitters, has a 13.50 ERA with peripherals to match this month, which could be the product of Fry being given leeway to work on specific pitches. Nate Jones, on the other hand…

If Jones continues to allow loud contact, then it’s up to guys like Ryan Burr, Jose Ruiz, a healthy Ian Hamilton and maybe even Carson Fulmer to step up. The Sox seem to have enough promising options that a few of them should stick, but Renteria prefers to avoid letting young relievers figure it out on their own, or at least exposing them to consecutive failures.

If enough veterans click, we shouldn’t see nearly as much of Renteria in the middle of innings this time around. However, if injuries to the more proven arms arise, Renteria may be content to take advantage of what could be the last OOGY-filled summer.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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lil jimmy

Of all the proposed changes, this is my favorite. The Manager walks out, everyone hovers around, they talk, about the weather, I guess. Then he takes the ball and pats him on the butt. Wasting time so the new pitcher can get loose. This happens sometimes three times an inning. It led to the 12 man bullpen. Then the 13 man bullpen. You know the 14 man bullpen was around the corner. Meanwhile, I am pressing icecubes to my eyes and the back of my neck, trying to stay awake.
Sometimes baseball needs to be saved from itself.


And how. iirc, the Yankees Red Sox game a few years ago where Girardi and Francona did their respective saunters to the mound to change the pitchers almost every game (though I didn’t see them all). Holy hell, I needed a shot of adrenaline!


I’d be interested to see if the rule change has a bigger effect in the post season.  As I haven’t been able to watch the post season I wonder if it’s reliever matchups on steroids and this rule will have a larger impact there. 


I think the biggest change in bullpen usage in recent postseasons has been the quick hook of the starter more than the length of relief appearances. Pretty sure the Brewers pulled their starter in the first or second inning several times this past October. And this has been a common occurrence in recent Wild Card games too.


A little surprised Fulmer went down so early particularly after his last performance or two. I’d think your Vieira’s and Marshalls at least would fall first.

Ted Mulvey

“Helicopter-parented his bullpen”, heh, very apt. (The New York Times has a new term for this, by the way; “Snowplow parents“)

Joliet Orange Sox

The Snowplow Parents article was very interesting. I have thoughts as both a college professor and as a parent of a college student but this isn’t the place for that discussion.

I’m replying because I think Ricky is a Helicopter Parent and not a Snowplow Parent. For him to be a Snowplow Parent to the bullpen, he’d need a better arm.

Ted Mulvey

I agree, as someone who works in academia, as well.

(and edited to add, the original link was meant to show a new layer to the phenomenon of the term)

As Cirensica

Interesting article indeed. The worst part of these snowplowing parents is that they don’t do it for their children but, in big part, for themselves so they can show off their children “successes” with their peers, frequently with depressing selfies.


Good gravy! I’m glad I taught my kids how to fend for themselves. My wife and I enjoy the serenity of our home sans kids because they can live on their own, fer chrissakes.


“Pace of Play” is the fancy way to say too many meaningless games. Real pennant races through radical realignment and getting rid of the wild solves the problem.


Will be interesting to see how this affects bench construction which hasn’t always been as much of a priority in the AL. Like will teams be more likely to carry a lefty masher on the bench.

Didn’t see this addressed, but is a double play considered two batters? And if a reliever faces one batter to end an inning, I am guessing he needs to face two more the next if he comes back out – or would he get credit for ending the previous inning and need to face only one?