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On Extra-Long Extra-Inning Games

Should changes be made? (Hint: no.)

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs’ 18-inning game Sunday night against the Yankees, the team’s longest by innings since 2006 (and the first 18-inning game at Wrigley since September 2, 1986) brought out some calls to “do something” about games that run that long. Even Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo weighed in:

Rizzo, however, said he talked with someone regarding alternatives to lengthy extra-inning games, including ties.

"It's crazy," said Rizzo, an avid Miami Dolphins fan. "Every overtime or extra time in sports is so exciting except baseball. It drags and drags.

"Whereas you have the NBA overtime and NHL overtime. The NFL (overtime) is so exciting, and baseball is a little 'meh.' Who knows what they'll do?"

With all due respect, Rizzo’s a bit off base here. NFL overtimes are sudden-death (with the exception that if a team kicks a field goal to take the lead in OT, the other team gets a shot). The NHL has had to keep tweaking overtime rules (now three-on-three; what’s next, two-on-two?) to try to eliminate ties and if Rizzo wants the equivalent of the shootout in baseball, we’d probably end games with a home-run derby. (Please, no. Not even jokingly.) NBA overtimes can turn into blowouts quickly.

Also, those games are all governed by a clock. Baseball isn’t.

Joe Maddon, in that article link, said changes would be “overreacting,” and I agree. The number of games that go that long is tremendously small. Here’s the number of all games that went 13 innings or longer in the last 10 seasons, with the number of 18-inning or longer games in parentheses:

2016: 20 (2)
2015: 27 (2)
2014: 41 (2)
2013: 38 (3)
2012: 23 (2)
2011: 28 (2)
2010: 20 (1)
2009: 21 (1)
2008: 24 (1)
2007: 23 (0)

That’s an average of 26.5 such games per year for the 10 seasons. That’s 1.1 percent of all games, on average for a decade, that went 13 innings or more. 16 games over the last 10 seasons have gone 18 innings or longer. That’s seven one-hundredths of one percent of all games. There have been five games in MLB this year so far of 13 innings or longer, and the 18-inning game Sunday is the only one thus far. Looks like 2017 is on a similar pace to other recent seasons.

Now, do we need rule changes to fix such a small thing? Of course we don’t, but Rob Manfred has already proven he’ll stop at nothing to “fix” tiny issues that don’t need fixing, as he did with the automatic intentional walk. There were four of those in Sunday’s game, saving maybe two minutes out of a six-hour, five-minute game. Thanks, Rob.

There is one thing that MLB could do that would help teams that play games that long. Establish an inning total that would be considered “extra long.” For purposes of this argument let’s make that 13 innings. (That could be changed, it’s just a baseline for discussion.)

Any team that played a 13-inning game would be allowed to add one relief pitcher to their roster for their next game without having to send a player to the minor leagues. In other words, since that team’s likely to have run through most or all of its bullpen in the extra-long game, putting it at a disadvantage, they’d have a fresh arm for the next game. If they’re playing the same team the next day, both teams could have that guy available. If they’re playing a different, better-rested team, that would even the playing field, so to speak.

But that’s all I’d do. No other rule changes are needed.

I’ll give the final word on this to Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk, who wrote an article on this topic the other day with the following headline: NBC SPORTS INVESTIGATION: Do we need new rules to deal with super long extra inning games?

His article, reproduced here in its entirety, is exactly how I feel:

No. It’s baseball. We play until the game is over.

For Christ’s sake, people, act like you’ve been here before.

My God.