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MLB should consider adopting a mercy rule

The proliferation of position players pitching in blowouts has brought up this idea.

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing a position player pitching in a blowout game used to be a rarity, something fun and interesting to create interest in a game whose outcome was not in doubt.

This year, though, we’re seeing that happen more often. On some occasions this year this has resulted some teams using position players to pitch the last inning or two if they’re ahead by a huge margin, figuring even if the position player gives up a few runs they’ll still win, and save their bullpen. Per this list at baseball-reference.com, there are 87 active position players who have pitched at least once in their careers (obviously, this doesn’t include Shohei Ohtani).

That’s... a lot. I usually think these pitching appearances are entertaining, especially when you see something like this from Frank Schwindel [VIDEO].

That’s been reported as the slowest MLB pitch ever hit for a home run:

Entertaining? Yeah... kinda. But also, granted, kinda ridiculous. (Also, not a “curveball.”)

There have been some people around baseball, mainly on baseball broadcasts, who have floated the idea of using a “mercy rule” in MLB games, similar to what’s used in international competition.

To wit: If a team is trailing by 10 or more runs after seven innings, by mutual agreement of the managers the game could be stopped.

I’m coming around. This might actually be a good idea.

Let’s have a look at how many games might be affected by this sort of rule change. I looked at games from 2021 and thus far in 2022, so that’s 2,429 total games from last year and 999 games so far in 2022, a fairly large sample size.

There were 98 games decided by 10 or more runs in 2021 (plus three games that had that large a run differential that were second games of doubleheaders and thus seven innings by rule, so I didn’t count those). That’s four percent of all games.

A team had a lead of 10 runs or more after seven innings in 60 of those 98, or 61.2 percent. But more importantly, that’s 60 games out of 2,429, or 2.4 percent of all games played last year.

Thus far in 2022, there have been 41 MLB games decided by 10 or more runs. This is essentially identical to the four percent from last year. Of the 42, 25 have had that 10-run spread after seven innings, including last night’s Cubs/Pirates game. That’s 60 percent of the overall 10-run games, and again 2.4 percent of all games played to date this year, so those percentages seem to be holding. I’m going to make an assumption that these numbers will hold long-term.

In 2021, the most games any team played that were decided by 10 or more runs is seven (Reds, 6-1 and Pirates, 1-6). All 30 teams had at least one such game last year, and the average is about four. The Cubs were 2-3 in 10-run games in 2021.

So far in 2022, 24 of the 30 teams have had a 10-run win or loss, and the most for any one team is five (Cubs, 1-4 and Marlins, 2-3).

The point here is this: This is a very, very tiny minority of all MLB games, 2.4 percent where a team is leading by 10+ runs after seven innings. As noted above, you’d expect each team to have about four per year. Some teams might have only one (in 2021, the Royals, A’s and Phillies had just one such game).

I’m here to tell you, then, that I am in favor of a mercy rule. If a team has a 10-run deficit after seven innings, its manager should be able to ask his counterpart if they could simply stop at that point. If it’s agreed, then the game is over. Or, agree before the game that if it gets to such a deficit after seven, it stops.

One complaint might be: “You’re depriving the fans of baseball they paid for!” Which isn’t wrong, but I will note that in a situation where the home team is down that much after seven innings, most fans will have made the choice to leave anyway. This happened last week when the Cubs were down 16-5 to the Padres after seven last Wednesday and Wrigley Field emptied out after the seventh; no more than 1,000 or so stayed to the end. And if the team that’s ahead by that much after seven has a game ended at that point — well, their fans should be happy, their team wins!

So I’m calling for it: MLB should adopt the international baseball mercy rule and allow games where a team is leading by 10 runs or more after seven innings to be stopped at that point. Also, in international baseball if the home team is leading by fewer than 10 entering the bottom of the seventh and scores enough runs in that inning to go up by 10 or more, the game is stopped before the seventh ends (similar to a walkoff win in the ninth or extra innings). This happened in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, when Italy defeated Canada:

Chris Colabello hit a three-run homer as Italy beat Canada 14-4 in a game that was ended by the mercy rule in the eighth inning Friday after not one, but two walk-off victories.

The first came on what appeared to be a grand slam by Mike Costanzo. Italy, which swarmed the field to celebrate, was forced back to the dugout after replay showed the hit was a ground-rule double that scored only two runners.

But one batter later, Mario Chiarini’s single scored the run that put Italy ahead by the 10-run limit and sent Canada slumping to the locker-room.

This would pretty much eliminate position player pitching, save bullpens, make fans of the leading team happy and shorten games that aren’t going to have the result turned around. Not one of the teams that had a lead after seven innings in the 82 such games that have been played since the start of 2021 lost that lead after the seventh, and many had their lead increased by... position players pitching. (See that Cubs/Padres game above for an example.)

Get it done, Rob Manfred.

Poll

Should MLB adopt a "mercy rule" allowing games with a 10+ run lead after seven innings to be stopped at that point?

  • 38%
    Yes
    (261 votes)
  • 61%
    No
    (419 votes)
680 votes total Vote Now