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MLB should continue seven-inning games in doubleheaders after 2020

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This is new to MLB this year, and it’s been well-received.

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Major League Baseball, as part of the agreement with the Players Association, chose to make any and all doubleheaders played in 2020 two seven-inning games, as has been done in the minor leagues for many years.

There were good reasons for this, including the idea of having players hanging around each other for shorter periods of time, as well as making travel easier during a season played during a pandemic.

I don’t think that when they chose to do this, they thought we’d have had as many doubleheaders as have been played and still scheduled going forward.

There will be, by the time this season ends, at least 42 doubleheaders either scheduled or played in MLB this year. I say “scheduled or played” because per this list at ESPN.com, nine of the doubleheaders were scheduled after at least one game of a previously-scheduled DH had been postponed. (Check the link, you’ll see what I mean.) One postponed doubleheader on the list, Cardinals at Tigers August 13, might still be played September 28 if needed for postseason seeding.

Forty-two doubleheaders is a lot of twin bills. Pro-rated out to a 162-game season, that’d be 113 doubleheaders and we know MLB teams no longer schedule them (except for a couple of one-offs in recent years) and don’t play them at all unless they absolutely have to for scheduling reasons. This is far more doubleheaders than MLB has had in a long, long time.

The ESPN site helpfully lists all MLB doubleheaders since 2002, which I felt was a large enough data set to be meaningful. Here’s the number played each year since then (note, I did not count games listed on the ESPN side that were indicated as “postponed”:

2019: 34
2018: 36
2017: 30
2016: 14
2015: 29
2014: 29
2013: 25
2012: 20
2011: 37
2010: 18
2009: 23
2008: 26
2007: 21
2006: 23
2005: 18
2004: 40
2003: 28
2002: 24

There’s a bit of variance in those numbers, mostly because of weather (there were a lot, for example, in the big hurricane year of 2004, and 2016’s weather must have been great overall!), but the average per year, 2002-19, is 26.

Twenty-six twin bills, on average, per year. That’s fewer than one per team.

The Cubs’ record of DH’s over the same period bears this out. For the Cubs I’ll note the home and road doubleheaders, and there’s a reason that I’ll explain below:

2019: 0
2018: 4 (2 home, 2 road)
2017: 1 (0 home, 1 road)
2016: 2 (2 home, 0 road)
2015: 4 (1 home, 3 road)
2014: 4 (1 home, 3 road)
2013: 1 (1 home, 0 road)
2012: 1 (0 home, 1 road)
2011: 2 (2 home, 0 road)
2010: 0
2009: 2 (2 home, 0 road)
2008: 1 (0 home, 1 road)
2007: 1 (0 home, 1 road)
2006: 1 (1 home, 0 road)
2005: 2 (1 home, 1 road)
2004: 3 (1 home, 2 road)
2003: 3 (2 home, 1 road)
2002: 4 (4 home, 0 road)

For the same 18 seasons studied above, the Cubs have had a total of 36 doubleheaders, exactly two per year, of which 16 were at Wrigley Field. So they’ve averaged two doubleheaders per year over that period, but just a bit fewer than one per year at home.

The last time the Cubs played a “traditional” (non-split) doubleheader was September 11, 2015 at Philadelphia, after a rainout (they swept those two games), and the last time the Cubs hosted a single-admission DH at Wrigley Field was August 3, 2006 against the Diamondbacks. The previous night’s game had been rained out, August 3 was getaway day back home for Arizona (precluding playing a split DH) and there were no common off days remaining. The teams split the twin bill.

It’s been a lot longer since the Cubs played a scheduled single-admission doubleheader at Wrigley Field: July 4, 1983. They got swept.

And it’s a far cry from the doubleheader policy in the 1940s and 1950s, when it was thought that “two for the price of one” would entice more people to come to games (it did, for a while, anyway). The most doubleheaders the Cubs have played in a season is 39, in 1944. They’ve played 30 or more nine times, most recently in 1957.

Oh, yes, the point. The point here is whether switching to seven-inning doubleheaders as a matter of MLB policy would be a good idea once MLB returns to a normal 162-game schedule. I’m here to argue that it would.

First, there just aren’t that many doubleheaders, period. As noted above, teams average about one per year and at least for the Cubs, it’s a bit less than that at home. Thus switching from a split-doubleheader model now to a place where you’d lose one gate would mean losing, on average, one date a year. Now, granted, the financial losses on that aren’t nothing, but they are mitigated to some extent by not having to pay gameday staff for what amounts to a 15-hour day for a split doubleheader that has games at noon and 7 p.m. local time. Instead you get one shift that likely lasts about eight hours; the split DH I’ve seen this year have run about six hours total start-to-finish.

Seven-inning games would also be less taxing on bullpens, and if you’re one of those people who thinks we have to shorten extra-inning games, you should probably be in favor of this idea, too. It would be a lot easier to reschedule postponed games this way instead of trying to figure out how to squeeze a day game and a night game into a three-game set where the first game is rained out. Further, being able to schedule a doubleheader with seven-inning games might mean teams would be more willing to call games off when the weather’s bad rather than make fans sit around forever waiting to start or resume a game when weather conditions are pretty hopeless.

Almost all people involved in split doubleheaders hate them — players, coaches, media, broadcasters, gameday staff. Give ‘em all a break by making this change.

From a competitive standpoint it really doesn’t change much because, as noted, the long-term average for doubleheaders per year is about one per team. Sure, occasionally you might play as many as four (as the Cubs did four times in that 18-year span), but then there are the years there aren’t any twin bills, as happened for the Cubs in 2010 and 2019. (Since 1900, there’s been only one other Cubs season with no doubleheaders: 1985.)

The seven-inning games this year have been interesting from a competitive standpoint and have introduced some new, unexpected strategies, largely surrounding bullpen use. It would be nice to see them on an occasional basis.

While there could be some financial concerns for teams giving up a home date to play a single-admission doubleheader with seven-inning games, given the fact that most teams aren’t going to have to do this more than once a year (and some not at all), I think it’d work out all right in general.

MLB has made some interesting rule changes for 2020. Some are working out well, others not. This one, I’d like to see stick around.

Poll

Should MLB continue seven-inning games in doubleheaders after 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Great idea! Love it!
    (83 votes)
  • 49%
    Nope. Nine innings minimum!
    (117 votes)
  • 15%
    Don’t care either way
    (36 votes)
236 votes total Vote Now