Earlier this week, we learned that Major League Baseball will implement a new rule aimed at reducing the length of extra inning games: Each additional inning will start with the batting team placing a runner at second base. The runner, who will be the player who reached the end of the previous inning, is considered to have reached the base by mistake. If you score, your race will count as an unearned race.
As expected, the announcement of the temporary rule change resulted in some polarizing views. Some, who have experienced the work of an 18-inning game that refuses to end, would prefer that the games end as quickly as possible. Others, fearful that this kind of change will mutate the sport they love, are vehemently against the idea of a baseball game being artificially accelerated.
However, 2020 is a unique beast that requires us to reorganize our priorities. If we are going to have to play baseball, we should do it while trying to limit exposure time. That means shorter games. As a workaround, the “second runner entry” rule won’t be much of a problem. The rule has been used on minors since 2018, so there is a bit of information to remove. As JJ Cooper of Baseball America pointed out on Twitter, 45% of games were resolved after an additional entry in 2016 and ’17. After the new rule was implemented for the 2018 and ’19 seasons, that number increased to 73%.
Jon Tayler delved into the numbers on FanGraphs, discovering that there won’t be a lot of overall games affected. 97.7% of the games played in 2019 ended in the eleventh inning or earlier. The 2020 regular season will have 900 games. At last year’s rate, only 21 games this season will last 12 innings or more. In the grand scheme of things, rule change is not a big deal. But it will have the benefit of limiting the uncertainty of extra long and inning games and reducing their impact, such as wearing down bullpens and forcing position players (untrained personnel) to pitch.
Even when baseball restarts in the United States, many companies will remain closed or implement reduced hours of operation. Personnel will be a problem, as many employees across the country have been laid off or suspended. Baseball players who return to their hotel rooms at 3 AM after a 17-inning game won’t be as convenient now as they were 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 restaurant, a fast food restaurant, a 24-hour food stall, or a convenience store, etc. Many of those options have disappeared due to the pandemic, and that’s just one example. The daily rigors of life we take for granted last year are not so easily addressed this year.
Some fans and even some players may be vehemently against these temporary rule changes. Under the circumstances, it’s totally fine. The positives outweigh the negatives in this one case. And I would bet that a lot of people will adopt the rule in the coming months.