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What should MLB do about long extra-inning games?

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There are a lot of choices. “Nothing” is one of them. But perhaps you have a different idea.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After the Cubs’ recent 15-inning, 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks, the topic of whether MLB should do anything to change how games that go extra innings are played was again raised.

I’m going to take a look at this topic — with data! — but first, I want to establish some criteria here.

I’m reasonably certain that most people don’t want to change anything about extra innings until games go beyond 12 innings. There appears to be a consensus among most baseball people and fans that the 10th, 11th and 12th innings should be played the way they are now.

It’s when games go 13 innings or longer that things like tie games, putting a runner on second base, allowing players out of the game to re-substitute or allowing teams that play games that long to add a pitcher for their next game become discussed. Some of these ideas do have merit.

First, let’s look at some data. Let me say before you look at this table that the categories I chose are somewhat arbitrary, but I had to set parameters, and these are the ones I chose. You might have chosen differently, but here, at least, is a starting point.

I looked at all Cubs games over the last 10 seasons (2009-18, not counting Sunday’s game in Arizona). Over that time span the Cubs played 25 games of 13 innings or longer. As I’ve noted previously, that’s about 1.5 percent of all games. Without researching the 29 other teams, I’m reasonably certain that over a long period of time (such as the decade I looked at for the Cubs), that would be close to the percentage for all teams.

Here’s what I found for those 25 games.

Cubs 13-inning (or longer) games, 2009-18

Date Innings played Cubs pitchers used W/L Record next seven games Notes
Date Innings played Cubs pitchers used W/L Record next seven games Notes
6/7/2009 14 8 W 2-5 Seven-game stretch included another 13-inning-plus game
6/11/2009 13 4 L 4-3
7/27/2009 13 6 W 4-3
6/24/2010 13 7 W 2-5
6/30/2011 13 7 W 2-5
9/6/2011 13 7 L 4-3
6/13/2013 14 7 W 3-4
8/22/2013 13 6 L 2-5 Seven-game stretch included another 13-inning-plus game
8/25/2013 15 8 L 3-4
4/2/2014 16 9 L 3-4
5/21/2014 13 6 L 3-4
6/6/2014 13 6 W 3-4
6/16/2014 13 8 W 3-4
7/29/2014 16 9 W 4-3 "John Baker Game"
7/21/2015 13 7 L 2-5
5/8/2016 13 5 W 3-4 Seventh win of an eight-game winning streak
5/18/2016 13 8 W 3-4
6/28/2016 15 8 W 2-5 Spencer Patton and Travis Wood both moved from P to LF to P
8/29/2016 13 8 W 6-1 Seven-game stretch included another 13-inning-plus game
9/4/2016 13 8 W 4-3
5/4/2017 13 8 W 2-5 Seven-game stretch included another 13-inning-plus game
5/7/2017 18 8 L 3-4
3/30/2018 17 6 L 4-3
5/6/2018 14 8 L 5-2
6/2/2018 14 5 W 5-2

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, although the long-term average of such games is about 1.5 percent, some years have more, others none. For the Cubs, they played only one in 2010, none in 2012, but five in 2016. Their won-lost record in the 25 games was 15-10, but in general, Cubs teams that weren’t good in that time frame lost more of these, Cubs teams that were good won more of them, as those teams did in general (4-4 in 2013-14, but 7-4 from 2016-18).

You’ll also note that of the 25 games, 15 went 13 innings, with the other 10 going longer. That means games of 14 innings or longer wind up being about 0.6 percent of all games.

I chose to look at the seven games subsequent to the 13-inning (or more) games because... well, I had to cut it off somewhere, and I thought seven games would be about right to see if there was any effect on the team after playing a game that long. Of the 25 occurrences, the Cubs had a winning record over the seven subsequent games, which doesn’t sound great, but 15 times the record was either 3-4 or 4-3, pretty much a coin flip. Again, I don’t have data for the 29 other teams, but it would not surprise me if these numbers looked similar for other ballclubs.

The main reason that many have given in favor of some change to these games is the risk of fatigue or injury. I do not have data on that, and I acknowledge that’s a risk. But there is a risk of injury to any player in any game, and players can get fatigued simply by the original schedule, or rescheduled games due to postponements. Just ask the 2018 Cubs about the latter.

The bottom line is that I don’t want to see any change in the fundamental way the game is played if MLB decides to “do something” about long extra-inning games. Again, I note that about 98.5 percent of all games finish up in 12 innings or fewer, so any change such as “finish in a tie after 12” or “runner on second to start all innings after 12” seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Two things that could be done that I would be in favor of are:

  • If the game goes to the 13th inning, players who have been removed from the game can re-enter. There would have to be some restriction on this, perhaps limiting the number of such re-entries, or perhaps allowing them to only pinch-hit or pinch-run.
  • If a game goes 13 innings or more, any team involved in such a game would be allowed to add a pitcher for its next game without a corresponding roster move.

I think those changes could be made to help teams deal with fatigue and running through all their relief pitchers during very long games, without changing the fundamental way baseball is played.

Lastly, many games that go 13 innings or longer become discussed at length on social media and create long-term memories for baseball fans. This is something baseball should embrace, not try to cut off, again, because they happen so infrequently. Messing with the way the game is played would appear, to me, to be a solution in search of a problem.

The discussion here on this topic seems at times to land generationally, with younger fans being more in favor of changes than older ones. That’s not a blanket statement, but I do want to find out if that’s generally true. Thus the poll questions here will be separated by age bracket. (If you are reading this article via Google AMP or Apple News you will have to go to a web browser to see the poll.) Once again, I’ve chosen an age cutoff arbitrarily.

Poll

13-inning (or longer) games...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    I’m under 40 and MLB should do nothing to change extra-inning games.
    (73 votes)
  • 28%
    I’m 40 or older and MLB should do nothing to change extra-inning games.
    (125 votes)
  • 2%
    I’m under 40. Games should end in ties after 12 innings.
    (9 votes)
  • 3%
    I’m 40 or older. Games should end in ties after 12 innings.
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    I’m under 40. Put a runner on 2B in all innings starting in the 13th.
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    I’m 40 or older. Put a runner on 2B in all innings starting in the 13th.
    (11 votes)
  • 3%
    I’m under 40. Allow re-substitutions starting in the 13th inning.
    (15 votes)
  • 8%
    I’m 40 or older. Allow re-substitutions starting in the 13th inning.
    (37 votes)
  • 8%
    I’m under 40. Teams should be allowed to add a pitcher for their next game if they play 13 innings or more.
    (39 votes)
  • 20%
    I’m 40 or older. Teams should be allowed to add a pitcher for their next game if they play 13 innings or more.
    (91 votes)
  • 0%
    I’m under 40 and have an answer not covered above (leave in comments).
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    I’m 40 or older and have an answer not covered above (leave in comments).
    (11 votes)
441 votes total Vote Now