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Seven-inning doubleheader games might be here to stay

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A lot of baseball people like them.

Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Last week, I wrote about seven-inning doubleheader games, how I was coming to like them, and hoped MLB would keep them after this year. One of the reasons I noted that doing this wouldn’t make a huge difference for most MLB teams is that in general, over the last 20 years, teams have averaged about one doubleheader per season. That is, of course, far different than the pandemic-related doubleheaders we’ve had this year, more than 40 of them, which is a very large number for a 60-game season. (See the link for more details.)

A lot of you didn’t seem to care for this idea — only 35 percent polled in that article said “great idea,” 50 percent said “nope,” and 15 percent said they didn’t care either way.

I’m here to tell you that among the many rule changes that were implemented for the 2020 season, seven-inning games in doubleheaders might wind up sticking around past this year, per Dave Sheinin in the Washington Post.

Sheinin talked with a number of baseball people, several of whom liked the idea, including Cubs manager David Ross:

“I like the two sevens,” Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross said. “… There’s a sense of excitement and the urgency of how quickly things [happen].”

“I definitely would think they’re looking into carrying it on,” Ross said of the seven-inning doubleheaders rule. “I’ve heard good feedback around the league.”

And Giants righthander Kevin Gausman:

“I really hope at the end of the season, Major League Baseball thinks about [keeping] it,” San Francisco Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman said. “I just think it’s more exciting [and] it speeds up the whole process of having two games in a day.”

And then, there’s this, which might actually tilt the scale in favor of seven-inning games:

One way to reduce the time of game, of course, is to lop off innings. In 35 doubleheaders through Thursday [September 10], 65 of the 70 games ended in seven innings (the others went to extras), and those 65 games lasted an average of 2:34. Sixty of the games were finished in under three hours, and 26 were wrapped up in 2½ or less.

Ah, ha.

Leaving out of this discussion the four extra-inning games the Cubs have played this season (because by definition those are going to be longer; if you’re interested, they averaged 3:38), they have played four doubleheaders, thus, eight seven-inning games and 38 nine-inning games. The seven-inning games have averaged 2:35; the nine-inning games have averaged 3:11.

Ah, ha, again.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has been a proponent of improving pace of play. Several rule changes have been made in an attempt to do this, and none of them have been effective. (None will be, in my view, until they institute a pitch clock.)

Now, shortening doubleheader games from nine innings to seven also doesn’t do anything to improve the pace of play — but it does shorten the average length of a game, and that’s something MLB has also been concerned with. Those of you who think we shouldn’t be playing long extra-inning games should be on board with this sort of change, I’d think.

To be fair, here are some quotes from Sheinin’s article from baseball folks who don’t like the shorter games:

“Seven innings,” Miami Marlins Manager Don Mattingly countered, “doesn’t feel like a full game to me.”

Well, that could be a generational thing, between Ross’ reaction and Mattingly’s. Mattingly is 59 years old and last played in MLB in 1995. Ross, 43, played as recently as four years ago.

There’s also this concern:

Some baseball officials also like that the seven-inning format emphasizes starting pitchers — since, at least theoretically, starters would pitch a higher overall percentage of innings. But relievers are understandably nervous about that prospect, with New York Yankees veteran Adam Ottavino saying, “I don’t want to be marginalized out of the game.”

That’s a reasonable concern — though if you’re only playing seven innings in doubleheader games, you’re likely going to need more relievers, not fewer — and as Sheinin writes:

... the reduction in innings treats only the symptom (longer games) of baseball’s fundamental disease and not the underlying causes — most significantly, an emphasis on higher fastball velocities and designer breaking pitches that lead to more pitches, walks, strikeouts and home runs but fewer balls in play.

That’s all absolutely true, and that’s another thing baseball will have to address. But, and I agree with Sheinin:

... they can spare a team’s pitching staff from the rigors of an unforgiving schedule. They can make starting pitchers matter again. And they can get fans back home — in some future season where fans are allowed to attend games again — at a decent hour.

You might or might not like the idea of seven-inning games in doubleheaders. I, personally, do and I think that if these are limited to games played as makeup doubleheaders for postponements, there wouldn’t be too many of them. And given what’s put forth in the WaPo article and the fact that there are very few doubleheaders overall in baseball (with the notable exception of this year), I wouldn’t be surprised to see this rule implemented. This, along with a lot of the other rule changes for 2020, appear to be not temporary, but trial balloons.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Great idea! Love it!
    (116 votes)
  • 44%
    Nope. Nine innings minimum!
    (127 votes)
  • 14%
    Don’t care either way
    (42 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now