Blue Jays From Away
Yesterday, I wrote about a new hypothetical rule in MLB that would change extra innings by starting each inning with a runner on second. Without any real games being played yet (Spring Training starts on Feb 25th!), I thought it’d be fun to try and simulate some games with this rule in effect. Does it change the winner? Does it save any meaningful amount of time? Let’s find out!
The Blue Jays had fifteen extra-inning games in 2016 – thirteen in the regular season, and two in the postseason. They won six of them and lost nine. Their record in extra innings was 1-6 on the road, and 5-3 at home (3-3 in the regular season).
Both postseason games went in the Jays’ favour and clinched their respective series – would that have happened with the man-on-second rule? Also, let’s not forget that the 19-inning Canada Day game was decided by a solo home run off a position player pitching. Had the ‘runner on 2nd’ rule been in place at that time, would we have been deprived of Ryan Goins‘ reaction as he escaped a bases-loaded situation unscathed? (Spoiler alert: we would have)
For the sake of this experiment, I will assume that everything that follows happened exactly as it did in real life (the pressure of the runner in scoring position didn’t get to the batter, or cause the pitcher to balk; the manager doesn’t suddenly decide to bunt or use a pinch-hitter, etc.).
Additionally, in the interest of keeping the batting order consistent with reality, I’ve also invented a pair of fictional pinch-runners – the Blue Jays’ player is named Steve, their opposition’s, Tom – to be inserted as the runner on 2nd each inning. Steve and Tom are average runners, meaning they will not steal any bases and will only advance on a groundout in a force situation. Obviously, if they were faster, they’d be more likely to score and therefore end the game even earlier. The presence of Steve and Tom might also alter some plays made by the fielders, but that’s obviously too many variables and you can’t truly predict baseball anyways.
Using Baseball Savant, I discovered that last year, in situations where there was a guy on 2nd and nobody in front of him, he scored 60.2% of the time on a single. Of course, this actually depends on a pile of factors such as the location of the batted ball, how deep it goes, how good the fielder’s arm is, the runner’s speed, how big a leadoff he had, etc. But taking the majority into account, I decided to make Steve and Tom capable of scoring from second on all singles that get through to the outfield. They’re also capable of scoring from third on fly ball outs to the outfield, which would then be considered sac flies.
April 20th – at Baltimore (10 innings)
In real life: the game was tied 3-3 and the Blue Jays got two men on base in the 10th but couldn’t score. The Orioles walked it off, 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th on a passed ball. Game time: 3:22
In the simulation: Justin Smoak drives in Steve in the top of the 10th with 1 out, then Ryan Goins grounds into a double play. In the bottom of the inning, Tom scores to tie the game on a Caleb Joseph double, then Joseph advances to 3d on a Joey Rickard single, and scores on a passed ball to walk it off.
Result: Same result, Orioles win, but with the score 5-4 instead.
May 3rd – vs Texas (10 innings)
In real life: Justin Smoak tied things 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th, then hit a 2-run homer in the 10th to walk things off for the Jays, 3-1. Game time: 3:25
In the simulation: Three straight outs leave Tom stranded at second for the Rangers. In the bottom of the inning, Edwin Encarnacion singles to left and brings Steve home to walk things off, two batters before Smoak gets to hit his home run.
Result: Jays still win, 2-1, but only about three minutes get cut off the time.
May 11th – at San Francisco (13 innings)
In real life: Tied 4-4 after the 9th, the Giants loaded the bases in the 10th but did not score, then walked it off in the 13th after Ryan Tepera walked Buster Posey on 4 pitches with the bases loaded. Game time: 4:28
In the simulation: Steve and a Russell Martin walk are stranded in the top of the 10th, then a 1-out Brandon Crawford single off of Drew Storen brings Tom home to walk things off in the bottom half.
Result: The Giants win, with the same score of 5-4, but three innings earlier. Saves about an hour of game time.
May 14th – at Texas (10 innings)
In real life: The Jays scored 3 in the 9th to tie things 5-5, then allowed a Drew Stubbs home run off Gavin Floyd in the 10th to walk it off 6-5 for the Rangers. Game time: 3:01
In the simulation: Jose Bautista drives in Steve with a 2-out double in the top of the 10th to pull ahead, 6-5. When Stubbs homers in the bottom of the inning, he brings in Tom with him for a walkoff.
Result: Rangers still win, 7-6, at the same time as they did originally.
May 19th – at Minnesota (11 innings)
In real life: Tied 2-2 after the 9th, Troy Tulowitzki drove in Ezequiel Carrera with 2 outs in the top of the 11th. Jays won 3-2. Game time: 3:07
In the simulation: Jimmy Paredes (remember him?!) drives in Steve with a leadoff double in the top of the 10th. Roberto Osuna gets three quick outs in the bottom half to end the game.
Result: Jays still win, still 3-2, an inning earlier, which saves about 20 minutes.
May 29th – vs Boston (11 innings)
In real life: They were tied at 3-3 and nobody scored in the 10th. Boston then scored twice in the top of the 11th on two walks, a double and an RBI groundout to win 5-3. Game time: 4:07
In the simulation: Travis Shaw drives in Tom on a single in the 10th, then Darwin Barney drives in Steve in the bottom half to tie it 4-4. In the 11th, two consecutive walks force Tom to third, and he scores on a wild pitch. Dustin Pedroia drives in a run with a double, and Xander Bogaerts has an RBI groundout before Travis Shaw lines out to end the inning. In the bottom of the 11th, three straight outs leave Steve at second base.
Result: Red Sox win anyways, 7-4. Time is the same.
June 7th – at Detroit (10 innings)
In real life: The game was 2-2 until the bottom of the 10th, when Ian Kinsler hit a bases-loaded single off Joe Biagini with nobody out to walk it off, 3-2. Game time: 3:07
In the simulation: Steve is stranded at second in the top half of the inning. Tom scores on Justin Upton’s single to center field, walking it off for the Tigers.
Results: Tigers still win 3-2, but three batters earlier. This saves about six minutes.
June 10th – vs Baltimore (10 innings)
In real life: Edwin Encarnacion hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th to walk it off for the Jays, 4-3.
In the simulation: Baltimore leaves Tom stranded in the top of the 10th, and Edwin’s home run becomes a 2-run shot.
Result: Jays still win at the same point, but the score is instead 5-3.
July 1st – vs Cleveland (19 innings)
In real life: The two teams entered the 10th tied 1-1. Despite 22 baserunners between them over the next eight innings, nobody could score until Carlos Santana led off the top of the 19th with a home run off Darwin Barney. Game time: 6:13
In the simulation: Mike Napoli drives in Tom with a single in the top of the 10th. Jays can’t score in the bottom half, game over.
Result: Cleveland wins 2-1 anyways, but 9 innings earlier, which cuts off about half the length of the game. Russell Martin never gets ejected in the 13th, and Goins and Barney never make their memorable pitching appearances.
July 26th – vs San Diego (12 innings)
In real life: Things were 4-4 through the 11th. The Padres scored two on a Matt Kemp home run in the top of the 12th, pulling ahead 6-4. In the bottom of the inning, Toronto loaded the bases on two hits and a 14-pitch Devon Travis walk, then Jose Bautista walked to bring in a run. Josh Donaldson tied it with an RBI forceout, then Travis ran home on a wild pitch to win it in walkoff fashion for the Blue Jays. The final score is 7-6, the game time 3:58.
In the simulation: Nobody scores in the 10th, or the top of the 11th. Edwin Encarnacion then leads off the bottom half with a single, scoring Steve to win the game.
Result: Jays still win, 5-4 in the 11th. This saves an inning and a half, and about 40 minutes.
July 31st – vs Baltimore (12 innings)
In real life: Each team had a walk in the 10th, and each had another runner in the 11th, but it stayed tied 2-2 until a Jonathan Schoop RBI single and then a 3-run Adam Jones home run in the top of the 12th. Baltimore won, 6-2. Game time: 3:47
In the simulation: Chris Davis drives in Tom with a 2-out single in the top of the 11th. Steve is stranded in the 10th and again in the 11th.
Result: Orioles win anyways, but with a score of 3-2 and one inning sooner. This saves about 25 minutes.
August 1st – at Houston (14 innings)
In real life: With the game tied 1-1, Carlos Correa drives in Jose Altuve with a double off Scott Feldman in the bottom of the 14th to walk it off 2-1 for the Astros. Game time: 4:05
In the simulation: Nobody gets on base in the 10th, then Jason Castro leads off the bottom of the 11th with a single to right that scores Tom and walks off the game.
Result: Astros still win with the same score of 2-1, three innings sooner. This cuts a little less than an hour off the time of the game.
September 21st – at Seattle (12 innings)
In real life: Jose Bautista tied it 1-1 in the 9th with a solo home run, the Jays got four runners in extras but left them all on base. R.A. Dickey pitched the 12th and two Josh Donaldson errors set up a Robinson Cano sac fly to walk it off, 2-1 for the Mariners. Game time: 4:23
In the simulation: Michael Saunders drives in Steve with a double in the top of the 10th. Roberto Osuna strikes out three straight in the bottom half to end it.
Result: Blue Jays win 2-1 instead, and the game is 2 innings and almost an hour shorter.
October 4th – AL Wild Card vs Baltimore (11 innings)
In real life: Tied at 2, The Jays’ bullpen didn’t allow a runner for 2 innings, and Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run bomb in the 11th to walk off the game 5-2 and send the Jays to the ALDS. Game time: 3:25
In the simulation: Devon Travis is the hero as his leadoff single in the 11th scores Steve and walks off the game.
Result: Jays win the wild card 3-2, two minutes are saved, and EE never gets his signature moment as a Blue Jay.
October 9th – ALDS G3 vs Texas (10 innings)
In real life: With the game tied 6-6, Rougned Odor made a throwing error on a double play attempt in the bottom of the 10th. This led to Josh Donaldson racing home to score and secure the sweep. Jays walked it off, 7-6. Game time: 3:21
In the simulation: Donaldson is still the hero – but for a different reason, as his leadoff double scores Steve and wins the game, as well as the series.
Result: Jays win the game 7-6, in a time about 10 minutes shorter than the reality. Jeff Bannister doesn’t get to hold up the celebrations by ordering a review on the play.
In total, my experiment found that the runner on second rule only changed the outcome of one game, and it was in the Jays’ favour. The same team won 14 of the 15 games, with significant time saved (an inning or more) seven times, and little change to the game length eight times. Obviously, this is a small sample size, and the predictions aren’t exactly scientific – there are numerous other mitigating factors – but some of the most memorable moments from the season were dramatically altered.