ESPN did a really interesting breakdown of Oliver Perez last season, the one left-handed pitcher with the most appearances that would not be allowed next season.
Like their take, I also don’t necessarily believe this is the end of the lefty-specialist. It is, however, another opportunity for all of us to second-guess managers, which will be fun, and completely intolerable all at the same time.
I don’t think the lefty specialist will be a dying breed, but it’s going to be important to have one you trust. Two things about the new rule create situations where it’s going to be important to have a good lefty. The end-of-inning rule, where you don’t have to face three batters if you end the inning, and then the actual three batter rule itself.
Imagine this scenario. You have the tying run at the plate, a lefty. The next hitter is also a lefty, then a right-handed bat. Do you have a left-handed reliever who will get you out of the inning in one or two batters just about every time? On the rare occasion he doesn’t is he better than truly awful against right-handed hitters? Then you hang on to that guy. He still has a ton of value.
As far as managerial strategy goes, I suspect every manager is going into a game with a scenario he wants to avoid at all costs.
In the ESPN article, that Nelson Cruz with the bases-loaded situation, right? So, you start planning around that. If you’ve got a couple of lefties before Cruz you want the lefty for, you bring him in 3 batters before Cruz, regardless. If he gets you out of the inning, great. If he doesn’t, you can replace him when you get to Cruz.
That’s going to be the big change, looking further down the lineup when you bring in a reliever to make sure you don’t wind up with a nightmare match-up. And, being a bit more picky about which left-handed pitchers are valuable. Being tough against lefty hitters won’t necessarily be enough. You’re going to need to be decent against righties too.
If you can’t be trusted with the occasional right-handed hitter, then yes, you may find this rule detrimental to your livelihood. That’s a shame, but it’s where the game is headed, might as well get used to it.