Get ready for another very weird rule coming to MLB in this very weird year: the seven-inning doubleheader.
In a world where the league and the players are trying to get in as many games as possible in a two-month window, and know there are likely to be many games postponed that will require doubleheaders to pull off, they are aiming to reduce any additional risk of exposure if at all possible:
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to stage seven-inning doubleheaders starting Aug. 1, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 30, 2020
Source confirms: MLB expected to announce tomorrow that it will stage seven-inning doubleheaders starting Aug. 1. No decision yet on extending 30-man rosters. First with doubleheaders: @JeffPassan
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2020
Common in the minor leagues, the seven-inning doubleheader would create some extreme weirdness in MLB when it comes to pitcher usage, since it would be all the more easy to get by with a pure bullpen game for one of the two games (especially if rosters remain expanded to 30, which is TBD). You might also see some weird outcomes like “shutouts” and “no-hitters,” but the stats are all gonna be weird this year anyway.
Although the difference between 14(ish) innings and 18(ish) innings, in terms of time players and personnel spend together at the ballpark, is not enormous, it could be a matter of hours. And any bit you can shave off of the risk is a good idea.
This is also just a practical matter, since it’s becoming all the more conceivable – given the Marlins outbreak and how many games it moved off of the schedule among four different teams – that there will be a TON of doubleheaders relative to what you’d expect in a normal two-month period. So, if you’re going to do that, the added risk to player health (non-COVID edition) could increase. Playing 18 innings in a single day is much more taxing than playing nine innings each day across two days, so shrink it where you can. Also, if bullpens got stretched thinner by more and more doubleheaders, the risk that a guy is pushed to throw a day earlier (or whatever) is also increased.
The extra-innings runner-on-second rule still will apply in doubleheader games, meaning teams in the eighth inning will automatically start with a runner on second base, sources tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2020
8th inning runner on second. That’s about as bizarre as it gets.
My position on this stuff remains: whatever. If it helps keep players and personnel just a little bit safer, and if it helps increase the chance that the league can actually get this season in, then so be it. Get as weird as you need to get.
As for the “weird” rules that’ll stick around after this season, I really doubt this one is a major threat. In a typical season, doubleheaders are relatively rare, since you have a much longer horizon to reschedule games on shared off-days, and also because you aren’t expecting as many postponements as we might see this season. I also think that teams and broadcast partners would not want to shorten games quite that substantially, which, let’s be honest, probably drives a lot of the decision-making.