The days of using three pitchers to get three outs are over in Major League Baseball.
A new MLB rule mandated for the 2020 season states that a relief pitcher must face three batters or complete the half inning before exiting.
Longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcasters Al Hrabosky and Rick Horton were in Joplin on Saturday for the annual Cardinals Caravan at Missouri Southern.
Both Hrabosky and Horton were relievers during their playing days. And in interviews with the Globe, Hrabosky and Horton shared their thoughts on the new rule and its possible impact.
“I just don’t like the way they keep tinkering with the game,” Hrabosky said bluntly. “I understand the reasoning for it, but I think it eliminates the left-handed specialist. I understand the logic of it, but I don’t think I really like it.”
“I have mixed feelings about it,” Horton said. “It’s trying to create a quicker pace to the game, but there’s always unintended consequences when you make a new rule. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
The new rule will definitely impact how managers strategize late in games.
“It’s going to force a manager to make a decision that no manager has had to make,” said Horton, a member of the Cardinals’ 1985 and ’87 World Series teams. “If you bring in a lefty to face a Joey Votto with the bases loaded, and he doesn’t get him out, he’s going to have to face two right-handed power hitters behind him. It’s a gamble.”
A southpaw, Hrabosky spent eight of his 13 years in the big leagues with the Cardinals (1970-77). He led the National League in saves (22) in 1975. Hrabosky, who also pitched for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, recorded 548 strikeouts and 97 saves in his career.
The man nicknamed “The Mad Hungarian” noted bullpen usage has changed greatly over the years.
“When I was pitching, you knew you were going multiple innings,” Hrabosky said. “There were times when I went three innings one day and three innings the next. That was just my responsibility. You sometimes went out there knowing you’re not 100 percent, but you knew you had a job to do. There were days when I knew I wasn’t at my best, and those were the days I concentrated even more and had some of my better outings.”
Entering his 35th season as a member of the Cardinals television broadcast team, Hrabosky noted that the 1967 World Series champion Cardinals used only 13 total pitchers, starters and relievers, over the course of the entire season. St. Louis used 22 different pitchers in 2019.
“Now, every manager feels like he doesn’t have innings covered,” Hrabosky said. “It’s ridiculous. We had a 10-man pitching staff when I played. And if I threw 30 pitches, no one asked me if I needed one or two days off. You had a responsibility. You had to be ready to pitch.”
Also a lefty, Horton was in the big leagues from 1984-1990. He struck out 319 batters and owns a career 3.76 ERA. Horton, a member of the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers team that won the World Series, has also witnessed big changes.
“Baseball is so analytical right now,” said Horton, who first joined the Fox Sports Midwest team in 1997. “It’s all about the matchups. I think about it like this…Why would you have me face a right-handed power hitter in 1987? Well, the answer then was there were only three other guys down there, and we played yesterday and we’re playing tomorrow and we’re playing the next day. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to pitch to somebody. It wasn’t a thought back then for a manager to say, ‘There’s a better matchup.’ There’s always a better matchup, but you can’t use that guy every day. We’ve expanded the thought to include every matchup, maybe to the detriment of the game."
“But I’m not so old-school that I can’t embrace the power of analytics,” Horton added. “They are great tools to understand the game. But I still think relievers need to be more versatile than being able to get just one guy out.”
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 12. Only time will tell how the new rule impacts the game.
Horton summed up his thoughts this way.
“We’ll see how it plays out," he said. "I think managers can figure it out.”