Major League Baseball announced that it will start a test-run of a new potential rule for extra innings. The rule proposal, which will adopt from international rules and will be tested at Arizona Fall League and the Gulf Coast League. The new potential MLB rule proposes that all extra innings will start with a runner on second base. The idea is that this will shorten the length of games and get extra innings “over with” at a much quicker pace. This is yet another idea in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s crusade to shorten games. While he usually harps on the pace of play (too many shifts! Too many pitchers! The time between pitches is too long!). This move targets getting rid of baseball entirely; the rule idea is to facilitate scoring and getting baseball done more quickly.
The main problem with this rule? Extra innings are not a problem. Manfred’s plan is a solution to something that is a complete non-issue. Putting a runner on second to start the inning is pointless to shorten the overall length of the game, which seems to be Manfred’s goal. Setting aside the odd idea that baseball fans want less baseball, let’s look at the pointlessness of the proposition.
The Nichols’ Expected Runs Table, which examined every combination of runners on base and runs scored between 1984 and 1994, shows that a runner on second does a great deal to facilitate run scoring. The chart shows that starting with a runner on second gives the offense over twice the odds of scoring a run that inning (27.5% with no runners, no outs compared to 63.3% with a man on second and no outs). While this greatly increases the chances of a team scoring, it increases the chances of both teams scoring. Just like banning the shift, Manfred has looked into rules designed to increase offense as a way to balance competitiveness. It’s absurd; increasing the likelihood both teams score does nothing to shorten the game, which is the stated goal of the move.
Not only do the odds a team scores increase substantially with the proposed move, but the expected runs go up as well. As teams trudge through bullpens, managers will do more to exploit their matchups, as their pitchers will start in a hole.
In fact, a pitcher could lose by giving up just two fly balls with the new proposed rule. I’ll repeat that: a pitcher could lose the game for his team by getting all three players he faces out, all due the change in rules. This means that not only will managers have to ensure that their pitchers have a great matchup to get an out, they have to be in a great matchup to get the right kind of out, as two lazy fly balls to the right part of the park loses the game. This will lead to more boring slogs as pitchers switch into the game repeatedly as each matchup has ever-increased leverage and managers will do more to exploit matchups.
Forgetting the competitive balance issues and the inherit strategy issues associated with the rule, Manfred and Joe Torre’s proposition does little to change the length of a game. Per data collected from baseball-reference.com, there were 185 extra-inning MLB games in 2016 (7.6% of all games this year). Last year, nine-inning games ended in three hours flat (if you round seconds). That means, on average, an inning lasted twenty minutes.
Of the 185 extra-inning games, 73 went one extra inning, 49 went two extra innings, and those instances account for 2/3 of all extra-inning games. That pegs two-thirds of the extra innings games lasting an extra twenty to forty minutes, on average.
Manfred is worrying about the long-game, late-inning slogs, and ignoring the fact that those are some of the best games because we get positional players pitching, which is the holy grail of weird baseball. Joe Torre drops the massive, five-hour struggle-fests in his reasoning behind the proposal, but those make up a shockingly small amount of MLB games. Torre & Manfred are hoping removing twenty-to-forty minutes in a small handful of games, to stave off long games in an even smaller subset of games.
Manfred has once again shown he thinks baseball is boring, and he wants to appeal to the younger generation. He once again misses the mark by trying to change the rules in a way that have numerous consequences, and none of them are making the game better or more exciting. The rule change is pointless and misguided. Much like the proposed shift ban, MLB is better off without this change.