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Should MLB’s placed-runner in extra innings rule continue past 2020?

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Maybe. Possibly. It’s not as disliked as many thought it would be.

Al Yellon

There have been quite a few rule changes for 2020, including seven-inning games in doubleheaders and the universal designated hitter.

The change that is likely the most radical is having a placed runner on second base in extra-inning games. Before this rule was instituted, the general consensus was that teams would simply bunt the runner to third and wait for a sacrifice fly to score that runner. Not only has that not happened, in general, but there have been quite a number of interesting strategies in extra-inning games this year.

The rule has had its desired effect. Just two games this year, out of 807 played through Tuesday, have gone 13 innings, none longer than that, and just four others have even gotten to the 12th inning.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, who seems to like throwing up trial balloons like this, said this recently about the extra-inning rule (MLB Trade Rumors transcribed it from an online event Manfred appeared on):

“The extra-inning rule has been more positively received than I would have expected,” said the commissioner. “I told people, I said publicly before Covid, that I didn’t see this rule coming to the Major Leagues. I think it has a chance now. It’s been good. People see it as a strategic rule. It’s a whole different thought process that goes into handling the extra innings. I think it’s a good thing.”

Well. I’m not so sure it’s a “good thing,” but it certainly isn’t as bad a thing as I had imagined. I have found I don’t hate this rule as much as I thought I would, and under certain circumstances I might say “Okay” if MLB instituted it going forward.

What circumstances would those be? For that, I first present data on how long extra-inning games went for the 10 seasons from 2010-19. This table shows the number of games for each extra inning, and a number showing the cumulative percentage of total extra-inning games through that inning.

Extra-inning games, by number of innings, 2010-19

Number of innings Number of games Cumulative percentage of total
Number of innings Number of games Cumulative percentage of total
10 innings 952 44.8
11 innings 537 70.0
12 innings 274 82.9
13 innings 169 90.8
14 innings 99 95.5
15 innings 37 97.2
16 innings 29 98.6
17 innings 7 98.9
18 innings 11 99.4
19 innings 10 99.9
20+ innings 2 100.0

As you can see, the number of extra-inning games drops pretty quickly after 10 innings, and very quickly after 13 innings. Almost 91 percent of all extra-inning games over the last 10 years were completed in 13 innings or fewer.

It’s been suggested by some that games could be played “normally” through the 11th inning, then if it’s still tied after that, used the placed runner. I’d prefer 12 innings, and here’s why: Over that 10-year span, there have been 364 games of 13 innings or longer. That’s about 1.5 percent of all games in those 10 seasons. Add the games of 12 innings and you’re talking about 2.6 percent. That’s not a huge increase, but it would make the number of “placed runner” games about three per team per year instead of two. Splitting hairs, I suppose, but I’d rather have as few “placed runner” games as possible if MLB does institute this rule.

Honestly, I’d miss the 18-inning marathons, which often become part of baseball lore. As shown, they don’t happen very often at all, just 23 times over the 10 seasons, which is about two games for all of MLB per season.

But if MLB is going to institute the placed runner rule, at least let us have three “normal” extra innings before it’s used. It’s possible that strategies would change over the “normal” extra innings if teams really didn’t want to use the placed runner.

And, of course, none of this would apply in postseason games. It doesn’t this year, either — extra innings in any postseason game in 2020 will be played just as extras were before this year.

This rule hasn’t been awful. It just might work going forward, if they’d take up the suggestion I’ve made here.

Poll

MLB should handle extra-inning games in 2021 and beyond by...

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    ... playing them as they did in 2019 and earlier
    (118 votes)
  • 15%
    ... having the placed runner rule as it’s being done in 2020, for all extra innings
    (41 votes)
  • 22%
    ... using the placed runner rule starting in the 12th inning
    (60 votes)
  • 13%
    ... using the placed runner rule starting in the 13th inning
    (35 votes)
  • 4%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (11 votes)
265 votes total Vote Now