Minor League Baseball announced several rules changes aimed at reducing the length of extra innings games and the number of mound visits.
- All extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning. So, usually, the guy who made the last out in the previous inning or a pinch runner for that guy. If the placed runner scored, it’s considered an unearned run;
- Visits by coaches and position players will be limited based on the classification level. Triple-A clubs will be allowed six visits per team, Double-A clubs will be allowed eight visits per team, Single-A clubs will be allowed 10 visits per team and there will not be a limit on mound visits for short season and rookie-level clubs. Everyone gets one extra mound visit if the game goes into extras. The more teaching and coaching you need, apparently, the more visits you get;
- Pitchers at the Triple-A and Double-A levels will be subject to a 15-second clock both with no runners on base and a 20-second clock when there are runners on base. The pitcher has that amount of time to start the pitching motion, not to release the ball. If he doesn’t do it, the batter is awarded a ball. If the batter is not in the box and ready to hit with seven seconds left on the clock, the pitcher is awarded a strike. There is a lot of latitude given to umps to reset the clock for various reasons.
The clock replaces the blanket 20-second clock which has been in place at Triple-A and Double-A since 2015. That clock has been shown to reduce game length by a few minutes in the minor leagues. There was talk of MLB using one this year, but that’s been put off for the time being. I suspect it will, eventually, be implemented. Overall it’s probably better at improving game pace as opposed to game length — those are two different things — and on that score I’m fine with it. Get the ball and throw it. If you need a clock to make you do it, fine. People will get used to it and civilization will not fall.
The runner-on-second rule is taken from the World Baseball Classic and has been tested in the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League. Last year, for what it’s worth, Rob Manfred said he doubted the rule would ever be used in the majors, but the fact that it’s moving up to Triple-A suggests that his mind may be changing.
Will the runner on second rule make a big difference? Doubtful. The proposed change is being justified for shortening games, reducing the stress of travel after long games, and limiting abuse of pitchers’ arms. The fact is, though, that extra innings games are not big problems when it comes to that stuff in the big leagues.
Generally about 7-8% of games go extra innings in a given year. Forty percent of them last 10 innings. Another quarter or so are done after 11, meaning that two-thirds of extra innings games in total go 11 innings or fewer. True marathon games are rare.
As for saving pitchers, only a handful of position players are ever used to pitch and those are mostly in the eighth or ninth innings of blowouts, not in close extra innings games when pitchers are used up. Heck, teams routinely have eight-man bullpens now. There’s always an available arm and the shortened disabled list has allowed teams to shuttle guys back and forth from the minors far more than they used to, making it even easier to keep arms fresh. All of which is to say that this is much ado about nothing. Both in terms of how much it’ll change the game and in terms of the effect it’ll have.
Purists will bristle much more at the runner-on-second rule, but it’s a much bigger philosophical change than it is a practical one. Do I like it? Nah, not really, mostly because it almost ensures that the first action in extra innings will be a sacrifice bunt to get that runner to third, often followed by an intentional walk to set up a double play, and bunts and intentional walks are dumb and unexciting most of the time. That said, it’s not going to come up so often that it’ll upset me so greatly. And heck, maybe we’ll get some fun out of it.
These changes should mostly be seen as Rob Manfred making it so that it cannot be said he’s doing nothing about a problem he’s made a far bigger deal about than most people have. If that’s important to you, great. Otherwise, it’s all kind of silly.