Minor league baseball to begin extra innings with a runner on second

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Minor League Baseball announced several rules changes aimed at reducing the length of extra innings games and the number of mound visits.

The changes:

  • 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.

 

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.