The Los Angeles Angels added Ryan Buchter to their 40-man roster on Sunday, which suggests he could take on the lefty reliever role out of the bullpen in 2020. What does this role look like under the new minimum batter rules?
Major League Baseball is trying to speed up the pace of play, and one of their solutions is to limit the number of in-inning pitching changes. As my dad always likes to say, “They need to stop with that righty/lefty cr*p.” Poetic or not, the Commissioner’s Office heard fans complaints, presumably conducted their own research, and decided the game would be better off without pitchers entering the game to face one or two hitters.
The new rules that go into effect during the 2020 season will prevent managers from changing pitchers before they face a minimum of three batters, or at least finish an inning. Long live the Lefty One-Out Only Guy (LOOGY)!
On Sunday, the Angels added lefty-reliever Ryan Buchter to their 40-man roster, which would seem like a procedural move to eventually place him on the active roster as their lone lefty out of the bullpen. Unless Joe Maddon decides to use a long-relief/starter in that role, the only other candidate on the 40-man roster would be Jose Quijada, who was recently optioned to AAA.
To understand how Buchter could be deployed this season, let’s look at how manager Bob Melvin utilized him in Oakland. Buchter appeared in 64 games for the Athletics in 2019, facing less than two batters 17 times; however, eight of those outings resulted in the final out of an inning, which is the new work around for managers who want to use a reliever for less than three batters. In other words, while Buchter was ostensibly used as a LOOGY at times, only 14% (or nine) of his appearances from last season would no longer be allowed under the new rules.
Over his career, Buchter has faced both righties and lefties with regularity. While his numbers are stronger against similar-handed batters (opposing LHB hit .187), he has experience retiring righties as well (opposing RHB hit .210).
As the one batter specialist is being phased out of the game, managers will always need bullpen arms who can enter a game in a difficult situation to record outs. Buchter has been effective pitching with runners in scoring position over his career, as opposing hitters tOPS+, which measures their OPS against Buchter relative to how the league performs in similar situations, was 23% below average. However, those numbers looked much worse in 2019, when hitters mashed 21% better than average against Buchter with runners in scoring position.
The veteran southpaw excelled in 2018 at stranding inherited runners, only allowing two of thirty to score; but last season, his struggles with runners in scoring position resulted in 15 of 36 inherited runners to score.
What Buchter offers to manager Joe Maddon is an experienced southpaw who can be used in multiple situations—whether strategically to retire a lefty for the final out of an inning, for several outs against both lefties and righties, or to escape a jam, especially if he can recover his magic from 2018 of stranding inherited runners.
All statistics are from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.