Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been examining some of the things Jayson Stark of The Athletic says could happen in Major League Baseball over the next decade.
One of those changes, he says, might be the elimination of long extra-inning games:
We’re sensing increasing momentum toward some sort of rule change that will pretty much pull the plug on those extra-inning games that go on and on and on and on, wreaking havoc on box scores, million-dollar arms and roster construction from the big leagues to the hinterlands.
So what’s coming? Most likely, it’s the adaption of the minor-league extra-inning rule, in which all extra innings begin with a runner on second base. But other tie-breaker ideas, like a mini-home-run derby, remain on the table — or even allowing games to end in (shudder) a tie.
None of this would apply in the postseason. But if something like this isn’t in place for regular-season games by the end of this decade, we’d be shocked.
Let me say right now: Don’t ever, EVER bring that “runner on second base” rule to Major League Baseball. I understand the reasons it’s used in the minor leagues. Among those: Not wanting to burn out prospect pitchers, most fans have probably departed by then, and wins and losses aren’t as meaningful.
In the majors? No thank you. I am also not interested in a “mini-home-run derby” (shudder). Baseball doesn’t need to become hockey, where games can sometimes be decided via something that’s completely different from the way the game is actually played. I don’t want tie games, either (though spring training now has them, and that’s all right, because wins and losses in spring games mean nothing). One of the best things about sports is that, unlike most things in life, the games have a result. Someone wins, someone loses. It’s one of the reasons we are all sports fans.
Stark doesn’t specify the exact length of “extra-inning games that go on and on and on and on,” so for the purposes of this article I’m going to stipulate that any game that goes past the 12th inning is such a game. Here are the number of games over the last 10 seasons that have gone at least 13 innings:
There’s some year-to-year variation, but the 10-year average is 36.4. There are 2,430 games in a major-league season. That means games of 13 innings or longer are 1.5 percent of all games.
Conclusion: This is a solution in search of a problem. It is probably going to become even less of an issue with the three-batter minimum rule for relievers that’s being instituted for the 2020 season. This rule could wind up with fewer relievers being used per game, and starters going longer — Kyle Hendricks, in fact, mentioned the latter as a possibility during the Cubs Convention this past weekend. The 26th-man rule should also help mitigate against the fatigue that I acknowledge is something that long games like these can create. With an additional bench player available, regular players should be able to get more rest.
Here’s one potential answer to the “problem,” if you even want to call it that. I would propose that any team that plays a game of 13 innings or longer should be allowed to add one relief pitcher to their roster for their next game, without a corresponding roster move (similar to what they can do now for doubleheaders). That would give a team that might have gone through its entire bullpen an extra reliever and help reset the rest of their pen for subsequent games.
There’s one more thing I want to mention about long games like this, and that’s games that go 18 innings or longer, such as the one shown in the photo at the top of this post (that game was played September 20, 2013. Go check out who drove in the winning run). Those games often become part of baseball lore. There have been only 23 such games over the last 10 seasons — that’s one-tenth of one percent of all games. No team has been involved in more than three such games, and the Cubs have played only one in that time span (May 17, 2017 at Wrigley Field against the Yankees).
Those are fun when they happen. They’re things baseball fans talk about, and sometimes they get attention for the sport beyond casual baseball fans. Why would you want to get rid of that?
To Rob Manfred: Don’t mess with long extra-inning games. I like them, they don’t happen all that often, and sometimes they create great stories for fans to remember.
Regarding games that go 13 innings or longer...
This poll is closed
Don’t change a thing
Let games go as long as they go, but allow teams to add a reliever for the next game
Use the runner-on-second rule
Have a "mini-home-run-derby"
Declare the game a tie
Something else (leave in comments)