Earlier this week, we learned that Major League Baseball will be implementing a new rule aimed at reducing the length of extra-inning games: each extra inning will start with the batting team placing a runner on second base. The runner, which will be the player who made the final out of the previous inning, is considered to have reached base via error. If he scores, his run will be counted as an unearned run.
As expected, the announcement of the temporary rule change resulted in some polarizing opinions. Some, who’ve experienced the slog of an 18-inning game that refuses to end, would prefer the games to end as quickly as possible. Others, fearing that this kind of change will mutate the sport that they love, are vehemently against the idea of a baseball game being artificially sped along.
2020 is a unique beast, though, requiring us to rearrange our priorities. If we’re going to have to play baseball, we should do so while trying to limit exposure time. That means shorter games. As a temporary fix, the “runner on second” extra-inning rule won’t be a big deal. The rule has been used in the minors since 2018, so there’s a bit of data to go off of. As Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper noted on Twitter, 45% of games were resolved after one extra inning in 2016 and ’17. After the new rule was implemented for the 2018 and ’19 seasons, that number rose to 73%.
Jon Tayler dug further into the numbers at FanGraphs, finding that there won’t be a high number of overall games affected. 97.7% of games played in 2019 ended in the 11th inning or earlier. The 2020 regular season will have 900 games. Based on last year’s rate, only 21 games this season will last 12 innings or more. In the grand scheme of things, the rule change is not a big deal. But it will have the benefit of limiting the uncertainty of long, drawn-out extra-inning games and reducing their impact, such as wearing out bullpens and forcing position players (untrained personnel) to pitch.
Even as baseball restarts in the U.S., many businesses will remain closed or will implement reduced hours of operation. Staffing will be an issue, as many employees across the nation have been laid off or furloughed. Baseball players getting back to their hotel rooms at 3 AM after a 17-inning game won’t be nearly as convenient now as it was last year. If a player was hungry and didn’t want to eat at the stadium last year, players had the option of going to a diner, a fast food drive-thru, a 24-hour food stand or convenience store, etc. Many of those options have gone away due to the pandemic, and that’s just one example. The daily rigors of life that we took for granted last year are not as easily addressed this year.
Some fans and even some players may be vehemently against this temporary rule changes. Given the circumstances, it’s totally fine. The positives outweigh the negatives in this unique case. And I’ll wager that a lot of people will come around on the rule over the next few months.