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MLB should bring back seven-inning games in doubleheaders

They’re trying to speed everything else up. Why not this?

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Earlier this week I’ve posted articles on MLB’s attempt to have fewer position players pitch in blowouts, the extra-innings placed runner becoming a permanent MLB rule and a proposal to have a mercy rule after seven innings.

The first two of these things are official in Major League Baseball now; the third is just an idea that I have floated.

All of these ideas have one thing in common: They are attempts to shorten the amount of time players, broadcasters, gameday staff and fans spend at the ballpark, or watching games on TV.

The placed runner idea began in MLB in the pandemic season of 2020, in an attempt to reduce the amount of time players spent around each other, to possibly reduce the spread of COVID.

Another thing that was done in 2020 was to shorten games played as part of doubleheaders to seven innings. This continued through 2021, but was dropped when the 2022 season began.

I’m here to argue that if MLB is going to do the other things they’ve already done to pick up the pace of play and shorten games — including the pitch timer, which we went over yesterday — then why won’t they continue the shorter doubleheader games, which accomplish the same thing?

Let’s look at some numbers.

In the last season before the pandemic, 2019, MLB teams played 34 doubleheaders. That’s pretty close to the number for the rest of that decade:

2010: 16
2011: 33
2012: 19
2013: 25
2014: 27
2015: 26
2016: 14
2017: 26
2018: 26

2020 is skipped because of the nature of how games were scheduled and played that year.

In 2021, when the seven-inning doubleheader game rule was still in effect, 58 doubleheaders were played. As was the case in 2020, some of those doubleheaders were played due to COVID postponements. Prior to 2020, weather was the sole reason for postponing a game and creating a doubleheader.

We can’t really count 2022, either, because after the lockout 30 games were rescheduled as part of doubleheaders before the season even began. A total of 39 other doubleheaders were played in 2022, somewhat more than the 2010-19 average of 21.

Long-term, then, I would expect the number of doubleheaders played in a season to be somewhere between 20 and 30, in general.

Thus if the seven-inning rule were put in place for doubleheader games, there would be between about 40 and 60 games per year that ran seven innings, or between 1.6 and 2.4 percent of all games. This is a much smaller number of games affected than by the placed runner rule, because that’s in effect for all extra-inning games, which amount to about nine percent of all games. (Also, it should be noted that in 2021 the Cubs played a doubleheader game that went 10 innings — three longer than scheduled — even with the placed runner used after the seventh.

For those of you who don’t mind these other rule changes — why would you mind somewhat shorter games when there’s already a very long day at the ballpark? I would imagine players would be all right with this sort of change, too.

Regarding advertising that would be “lost” in this case, remember we are talking about probably two percent of all games, and “losing” two innings’ worth of TV ads for those games. That’s 22 percent of two percent, or... four-tenths of one percent. It’s just not a significant number.

The argument I’m making here is this: If MLB has put into place all these other rules to speed up or shorten games, why not this one?


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