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Why the extra-inning placed runner rule has to go, and thoughts on a DH experiment

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They’ll be trying something in the Atlantic League regarding the DH that might work.

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

They played an outstanding pitchers’ duel at Guaranteed Rate Field Tuesday, did the White Sox and Cleveland.

Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito, who finished first and seventh in 2020 AL Cy Young voting respectively, matched up in a game where they both dominated. Giolito threw seven innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight. Bieber did him better, throwing nine full innings — just the third pitcher to do that this year — and giving up three hits, with 11 K’s.

The game impressed Cleveland beat writer Mandy Bell:

Know how many baserunners reached second base through nine innings?

Three. Eddie Rosario doubled off Giolito in the second inning, Roberto Perez walked leading off the eighth and was sacrificed to second and Adam Eaton singled with one out in the ninth and advanced to second on a walk.

Brilliant pitching by both teams. These sorts of taut thrillers are games I enjoy watching — maybe you’re more fascinated by hitting blowouts (which are fun, admittedly!), but a great pitcher’s duel is just as exciting, especially because they’re so rare in modern baseball.

The game went scoreless into the 10th inning.

Uh-oh. Now we’re going to ruin this game in which just three runners have reached second base and just give each team a runner on second. Free! Don’t have to do anything to get there!

Well, the Sox messed it up immediately, an error and a couple of hits plated two runs for Cleveland. The Sox went down 1-2-3 and lost 2-0.

I gotta say it. This is an abomination to baseball. I understand, in a way, why it is still being used in 2021 after being part of the COVID-19 protocols in 2020. We’re still living in a pandemic world, as the Cubs have recently found out with multiple placements on the COVID-19 list. MLB doesn’t want players sticking around each other for hours on end. I get it.

But after 2021, can we please kill this rule with fire?

I understand some of you don’t like endless extra-inning games. Since games of 13 innings or longer are so rare (longterm average: 1.5 percent of all games, about 30 per year, average about one per team per year), if MLB is insistent on this rule, then play regular baseball through 12 innings and use it starting in the 13th. 98.5 percent of all games are going to be complete after 12 innings anyway.

Another reason to get rid of this rule is postseason play. We’re going to have a 162-game season in 2021 where extra innings are going to be played with the placed runner. Teams are then going to go into a postseason where this rule won’t be in effect and perhaps play 14, 15, 16 innings or more? They won’t be properly prepared for it.

And for those of you who want tie games in baseball: No. Never. I can be convinced on a lot of baseball topics to change my mind. Not on this one. Don’t care that they have them in NPB in Japan — one of the primary reasons they have ties after 12 innings in Japan is that the trains stop running at 11:30 at night and since the overwhelming majority of fans take trains to games, they can’t just be left stranded at the ballparks!

Other sports have tie games? Don’t care. One of the best things about watching a sports event, in my view, is that it has a result, a win or a loss. Many things in life don’t.

Let’s keep baseball that way. But please, no more placed runner in the 10th inning after 2021.

The other potential rule change that caught my eye earlier this week was MLB’s announcement that they are going to use what is being termed the “Double Hook” designated hitter rule in the Atlantic League this year. It will work this way:

Once a team’s starting pitcher is replaced, the team will lose its Designated Hitter for the remainder of the game. The Club will be required to use a pinch hitter, or the relief pitcher will bat.

The “Double Hook” rule represents a potential compromise between the historical rules of the National League (which has not employed the Designated Hitter, except in 2020) and the American League (which has used the Designated Hitter since 1973).

Nearly 90% of pitching starts in the Major Leagues in 2020 lasted less than seven innings. By linking the DH to the starting pitcher, the rule aims to incentivize teams to leave their starting pitchers in longer, increase the value of starters who can work deeper into games and increase the strategic element in the late innings of a game.

This is a compromise between “universal DH” and “keep pitchers batting” that’s been proposed, possibly, for Major League Baseball going forward.

As noted by MLB, this rule is intended to give teams an incentive to leave starting pitchers in the game longer. Over the last few years the average length of a start has decreased to the point where in 2021 (through Tuesday) it’s exactly five innings, and 15 of the 30 teams are averaging under five innings per start. Five years ago this average was 5.6 innings and 10 years ago it was six innings, so you see the problem.

I can foresee a couple of issues with this idea.

First, what happens if a starting pitcher gets rocked in the first or second inning and has to be removed? Then a team could lose its DH potentially before he even bats. This doesn’t seem fair, plus it gives the opponent a significant advantage. Perhaps the rule could be tweaked to say that the DH can’t be removed before (say) the fifth inning.

The second change I’d make is to allow the player who is the DH, once removed from that role, to stay in the game in the field. You want strategy? Well, you’d have it there, because then a manager is going to have to decide whether to take out one of his fielders to keep his DH’s bat in the game. This could lead to more teams not using a DH who is simply around in the later years of his career just for his bat (I’m looking at you, Miguel Cabrera and Nelson Cruz) and create interesting strategic decisions.

In the end, most teams would not let pitchers bat at all, increasing the use of pinch hitters. This might require another increase in roster size, as some teams (like the Cubs) are carrying only four bench players despite a 26-man roster.

We’re very likely to have the universal DH in some form beginning in 2022. This could be a useful means of compromise between DH proponents and opponents, and even add a bit of managerial strategy — as long as they don’t force the DH out of the game before (say) the fifth inning.

Poll

The extra-inning placed runner rule...

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Love it! It shortens games!
    (71 votes)
  • 24%
    It’s OK, but I’d rather have it in the 13th inning and later only
    (144 votes)
  • 54%
    Hate it! Play real baseball until someone wins!
    (315 votes)
  • 7%
    I’d rather have tie games after 12 innings no matter how you get there
    (42 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (9 votes)
581 votes total Vote Now

Poll

MLB’s experiment with having the DH role end when the starting pitcher is removed...

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Great idea! Do it!
    (88 votes)
  • 13%
    Good idea, but use it only in the sixth inning or later
    (64 votes)
  • 13%
    I like having different rules about pitchers batting in the AL and NL
    (66 votes)
  • 22%
    All pitchers should bat in both the NL and AL
    (109 votes)
  • 30%
    Fulltime DH in the NL and AL, pitchers should never bat
    (147 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (6 votes)
480 votes total Vote Now