It’s out there. It’s been out there. It’s confirmed. But we haven’t really *discussed* it yet.
I’m talking about the new rule – theoretically for this year only, but you know how slippery that slope can be – that would seek to shorten extra-innings games by starting the 10th inning with a runner on second base. That runner will be the guy who made the last out the previous inning (or a pinch runner), and for earned-run-scoring purposes, he’ll be treated as though he reached on an error. (Bonus value to relievers who are particularly good at pitching out of jams, right?)
It’s a rule that has been used in the minor leagues for a little while, and it wasn’t but a couple years ago that there were plenty of rumors that MLB would like to implement it at the big league level. Now, there’s an opportunity to do it, and we’ll see if it truly lasts only this year. It probably depends on how it plays out.
To that end, let me say up front that I’m completely fine with the rule for this year. Even if it weren’t about shortening games so that players have less exposure to each other, I would still be fine with it. We’re talking about a completely bizarre 60-game season anyway. So if there’s a rule you’ve been thinking about? Just do it. Let’s see it in action.
As for whether I’d want to see the rule implemented long-term, I tend to doubt I’m gonna like it, but I’m at least open to seeing how it plays out this year.
Firstly, I’ll say what pretty much everyone who discusses this rule immediately beefs about: you’re just begging for sac bunts and intentional walks aplenty. And neither is particularly compelling baseball.
That’s gonna be especially true in the bottom of the 10th/11th/etc. when the road team either doesn’t score, or maybe scores one run. That runner at second base? Man, if it’s not a bopper at the plate, he’s gonna be sac bunting every dang time. Right? And that’s pretty lame.
That said, I suppose it would be unfair not to mention the flip side: it won’t *always* be a sac bunt or intentional walk, and sometimes you’re gonna have a little extra fun and excitement in the 10th or 11th that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Moreover, while I wouldn’t hate if the league just accepted ties, it’s hard to argue that a walk-off win is not one of the most fun things the sport has to offer.
OK, but what about the math and data of the new rule? It’s happened in the minor leagues for a while, so surely there is some info out there about what it’s going to look like in the bigs, practically speaking, right?
Yes! There is:
We at BA are well-acquainted with the extra-inning rule that is coming to MLB this year. With help from players/broadcasters/officials and MiLB fans, as well as some fun stat dives, here's what the minors tells us about the majors new extra-inning rule.https://t.co/SmT9v2kHkl
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) June 24, 2020
Love it or hate it, the 2020 MLB season will feature a runner on second base to start all extra innings. But what if any impact will that change have on making games shorter? @JATayler on the league's latest attempt to save time. https://t.co/xJszexgU52
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) June 25, 2020
As you see in those pieces, some of the data that provides context for the discussion about the rule:
⇒ In 2019, about 1 in 12 games went into extra innings.
⇒ Each extra inning of baseball takes, on average, about 29 minutes to complete.
⇒ The run expectancy with a runner on second base and no outs is about 1.1 runs (61% chance of scoring at least one run).
⇒ In the minor leagues, about 44% of extra-inning games ended after the 10th inning before the rule, and 69% after the 11th. Since the rule, those numbers are up to about 73% and 93%, respectively.
On the whole, I’m totally fine with it for this year, and I actually do want to see what it looks like. I’d be surprised if I say I want it to stick around forever, but I’ll at least be watching with an open mind.