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Here’s why the ghost runner in the 12th inning and later is a good idea

Yes, I really said that. It’s true, and this article will explain.

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When the new MLB/MLBPA collective bargaining agreement was made last week, it was widely assumed that the “ghost runner” in extra innings was going to be a thing of the past.

But then earlier this week, Jayson Stark and Matt Gelb of The Athletic reported that players and owners were discussing continuing it:

Sources said the union surveyed player reps for all 30 teams Sunday to gauge player interest. Early indications are that players heavily support it. But negotiators continued to discuss it Monday, on several levels.

One question, even if the rule is enacted, is what inning it would go into effect. It is possible that, rather than using it in all extra innings, the ghost runner wouldn’t be used until the 11th inning or even the 12th.

The article indicated this was part of discussions about health and safety protocols between owners and players, and these protocols could be announced this week.

I have long been against this added part of pandemic-related baseball, though it didn’t often result in what everyone initially expected (a sacrifice bunt by the first hitter).

Tuesday, I located a Twitter thread that makes a strong case for keeping the ghost runner — as long as it’s done starting in the 12th inning.

All right, Rich Burk, explain this.

Correct. I have done similar research and the long-term average of games that last beyond 11 innings is pretty consistent. For the 10 years from 2010-19, there were 638 games that went 12 innings or longer, which is 2.6 percent of all games in that time frame. Put another way, somewhere around 97.5 percent of all games end by the 11th inning.

Rich Burk continues:

Well now. I wouldn’t have expected that. Why does this happen?

Of course. That makes sense, starting an inning with a runner on base (any base!) would lead to longer innings. Pitchers checking runners, pitching from the stretch, etc. All right, now I’m intrigued. Carry on, Rich Burk!

Rich Burk notes that 208 of 2,429 games in 2019 went into extra innings. That’s 8.5 percent of all games. Of those, 142 went 10 or 11 innings, or six percent of all games. This is in line with the long-term average. From 2010-19, 2,127 games went into extra innings, or 8.7 percent of all games. As I noted above, 2.6 percent in that time frame went beyond 11 innings.

Bottom line: We’re talking about a very, very small number of games if the ghost runner would be limited to the 12th inning or later. In fact, if that became the rule, teams might go harder to win a game in the 10th or 11th inning so they didn’t have to use it. The number of games going 12 innings or longer might actually go down.

I discovered, in the two years this rule has been in place, that I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. Now that they are considering using it again, possibly beginning only in the 12th inning, I think I could live with that for the long term. On average, given the (approximate) 2.5 percent of all games figure, each team averages about four 12-inning (or longer) games per year.

I understand the reasons for this rule: Less fatigue for players, less going through an entire pitching staff, etc. Someone’s going to mention tie games here, and I’m unalterably opposed to that. One thing about sports, in general, is that it produces a winner and loser. Attending or watching a tie game, to me, is just unsatisfying.

The idea of allowing a ghost runner only in the 12th inning or later seems a reasonable compromise. I’d be fine with it.

Poll

Regarding extra-inning games...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    ... the ghost runner should be used starting in the 10th inning, as has been the case since 2020
    (16 votes)
  • 41%
    ... the ghost runner should be used, but only in the 12th inning or later
    (86 votes)
  • 46%
    ... the ghost runner should not be used at all, play regular baseball until a winner is decided
    (95 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (8 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now