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Major League Baseball should institute a mercy rule to shorten games

The pitch clock and the extra-inning runner are in part designed to do this. So why not go further.

With a mercy rule, this game could have ended after the seventh inning with a 17-0 Cubs win
Al Yellon

As we all know, a pitch clock is coming to MLB games this year, and the likely result, faster pace of play, is probably going to cut 25 minutes or more off the time of a nine-inning game.

Most people around the sport think this is a good thing.

Monday, we learned that the extra-inning placed runner (often termed the “Manfred Man”), which began during the 2020 pandemic season, is going to be made permanent for regular-season games beginning this year.

There are strong opinions on both sides of that change and the point of this article isn’t to belabor that.

What I do want to do here is make another suggestion on possible MLB rule changes that could speed up games in certain situations.

That’s the concept of a “mercy rule” — in other words, if a team is hopelessly trailing late in the game, that team’s manager should have the option to simply say, “We’re done here,” and the game would end. My suggestion: If a team is trailing by 10 or more runs after seven innings, they should be permitted this option. I have written about this before, most recently last May, but now I have some numbers to back up my opinion.

Last year, there were 93 games that were decided by 10 or more runs. That’s about 3.9 percent of all games. So we’re talking about a fairly small sample size here anyway. Of those 93 games, 45 — a little less than half — had a 10-run (or larger) deficit after seven innings, broken down this way:

12 games with a 10 run deficit
9 games with a 11 run deficit
6 games with a 12 run deficit
9 games with a 13 run deficit
9 games with a 14+ run deficit

Forty-five games is about 1.9 percent of all games. So if you’re concerned about fans missing out on a couple of innings in a blowout — when many such fans would have left anyway — or advertisers losing out on TV money for a game many would have turned off, we’re not talking about a large number of games here.

The chance that a team is going to come back and win after being down by 10 or more runs is vanishingly small. The major-league record for biggest comeback is from 12 runs down. It’s been done three times since 1901, most recently August 5, 2001 by the Mariners (and before that, in 1925 and 1911. This article lists 15 other games where a deficit of 10 or more runs was overcome, so that’s 18 such games in the last 122 seasons.

There have been 204,706 Major League games played since 1901 (including the Federal League). Eighteen is about one nine-thousandth of one percent of all games.

Point: If a mercy rule were introduced, the idea that you’d be taking away a team’s chance to come back from a 10-run (or larger) deficit is pretty much meaningless, given how many times it’s happened.

The supposed point of the two rule changes announced over the last couple of days is to shorten games and to reduce fatigue and overwork of pitching staffs. A mercy rule would accomplish both of these things, and it wouldn’t happen very often, either. I’m not going to go into the “how many of these teams were leading by 10+ after seven innings” thing for all these years, but here are the number of games decided by 10+ runs every year since 2010 (excluding the pandemic season of 2020):

2022: 93
2021: 101
2019: 110
2018: 90
2017: 113
2016: 85
2015: 83
2014: 63
2013: 74
2012: 61
2011: 72
2010: 84

Including 2022, the average number of such games since 2010 is 85. The number has gone up over the last few years, and without checking I’d guess the number of games in which a team was ahead by 10+ runs after seven innings is probably close to the same, about half of the total.

It’s just not a very large number of games.

There are forfeit rules on the books now. From the official MLB rules (pdf), specifically Rule 7.03 (b):

A game shall be forfeited to the opposing team when a team is unable or refuses to place nine players on the field.

So, theoretically, under that rule the manager of a team trailing by 10+ runs could simply refuse to take the field and the game would be forfeited. But there are better ways to specifically codify the mercy rule, and publicize it so that fans and TV viewers would understand that the game could possibly be called after seven if it got to be a 10+ run blowout.

MLB would also have to decide whether the same courtesy could be given a team if they were down by fewer than 10 after seven innings, but gave up runs and trailed by 10 or more after the eighth. (I’d say yes to this.) I’d also say that the manager of a team leading by 10+ runs shouldn’t be permitted to just say “We’re done here” after seven, just declaring victory. It should be up to the manager of the team that’s trailing.

If MLB is serious about reducing wear and tear on pitching staffs and reducing the number of position players pitching, they really ought to institute a mercy rule, which is used in international baseball competition — you’ll see it in the early rounds of the World Baseball Classic, for example. Of course, they don’t do it in the championship WBC game and this wouldn’t be in effect during MLB’s postseason, just like the placed runner rule isn’t in effect for playoff games.

Get it done, Rob and the Competition Committee.


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