We’ve had a lot of adjustments to rules for this year’s 60-game season: The National League is using a designated hitter. Games can be suspended at any time. Extra innings are beginning with a runner on second base.
And now, there’s one more:
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to stage seven-inning doubleheaders starting Aug. 1, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 30, 2020
This makes sense for a shortened season in which MLB wants (or should, anyway) players and staff to spend as little time around each other as possible. Which, incidentally, is why they should have called off Thursday’s Cubs/Reds game a lot earlier than they did. Right, Anthony Rizzo?
Player safety? @mlb let’s sit around for 8 plus hours inside the clubhouse.. I’m sure I can find that somewhere in the 113 page player safety protocol.— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) July 30, 2020
It used to be, decades ago, that games were postponed with even a forecast of rain. Now, with advances in weather radar and forecasting, the timing of inclement weather is much easier to forecast... and yet, MLB waited an hour after Thursday’s game time to postpone, even though no ticket sales (or beer sales) were involved. They really ought to be more proactive.
Anyway, that’s just a side note to my purpose here, which is: What sorts of changes in strategy will seven-inning doubleheaders make for major-league managers?
Seven-inning doubleheaders have been the norm in the minor leagues for many years — so many, in fact, that I have not been able to determine exactly when this practice began. Per MiLB.com:
According to Rule 4.10 (a) in the Official Baseball Rules, Minor Leagues have the option to adopt a policy where all doubleheaders consist of two seven-inning games. It’s done to complete the games in a timely manner while offering a good value for fans and accommodating the teams’ travel plans.
Since there aren’t any fans in attendance, the reason MLB is doing this for 2020 is primarily to “complete the games in a timely manner,” to help travel plans and also to have players and staff spend less time around each other.
I looked up doubleheaders for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs last year. They played seven of them, all in April and May 2019. You can probably guess why — lousy weather early in the season. Five of the doubleheaders were in Des Moines, one in Omaha and one in New Orleans. With 14 games involved, we have 28 different selections of how pitchers were used by the various managers. Keeping in mind that minor-league pitcher usage can be somewhat different than major-league pitcher usage because organizations are trying to protect prospects, here’s what the 28 starting pitchers did in those games:
Seven innings: 1
6 to 6⅔ innings: 3
5 to 5⅔ innings: 15
4 to 4⅔ innings: 6
Fewer than four innings: 3
The seven-inning complete game was thrown by Heath Fillmyer of Omaha, who spent some time in the majors with the parent Royals in 2018 and 2019. Colin Rea, just recalled to the Cubs, threw six innings once and five innings three times in these 14 games, and one of the four-inning outings was Mike Montgomery for Iowa in a rehab start (68 pitches). And one of the sub-four inning starts was one where Nashville’s starter against Iowa faced seven batters and retired only two of them and was removed for bad-pitching reasons.
The patterns of usage, then, appear not all that much different than what a big-league manager would do. What it will do at a major-league level, I think, is to reduce the number of relievers needed. Most big-league starters can give you six innings, and I’d think almost all of them — unless they’re just getting pounded — can go five. Thus a team could avoid using the back end of a bullpen and just go with its better leverage relievers in seven-inning games.
We have yet to see a doubleheader like this. One was scheduled between the Blue Jays and Phillies Saturday, but that entire series was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The Indians and White Sox played a doubleheader earlier this week before this rule was agreed to, so they played nine-inning games. The Cubs and Reds will likely play one of these the last weekend August to make up Thursday’s rainout, if this shortened season even gets that far.
It’ll be interesting to see what major-league managers do when faced with seven-inning doubleheaders. At least one player doesn’t like the idea:
“I like nine and nine, personally,” New York Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino said Wednesday. “I don’t want to be marginalized out of the game. Once we go seven-inning games, slippery slope there.”
There’s one more thing about seven-inning games in doubleheaders:
The extra-innings runner-on-second rule still will apply in doubleheader games, meaning teams in the eighth inning will automatically start with a runner on second base, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2020
In six games so far this season, the Cubs haven’t gone into extra innings, and of 92 games played to date, just eight have gone past nine innings. That’s an article for another day.
For now, I think the seven-inning rule for doubleheaders is a good one.
Seven-inning games for doubleheaders...
This poll is closed
Good idea, but just for this year
Good idea... keep it around past 2020
Bad idea, don’t like it at all