Blue Jays From Away
Note: This is the second part of a series on pace-of-play game rules. For Part 1, see here.
Another rule change suggestion which has recently come to light is starting extra innings (from the 10th onward) with a runner on second base. This rule, already common practice in international competitions, was added to the World Baseball Classic (starting in the 11th inning) this year and will be tested in the low minor leagues of MLB.
Now, this clearly isn’t a solution to pace-of-play problems because it doesn’t affect the length of the regular innings in any way! Let’s not forget, the majority of games only last nine innings, and extra-inning games, by their very nature, will always be long. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this, but that’s why they’re called extra innings. So what’s the point?
Some teams, including long-time Yankee manager Joe Torre, really just don’t want to exhaust their bullpen and have to resort to position players pitching to close things out when games run long. From a management standpoint, I can understand that. But that can happen anyway when the starter gets shelled early on – and from the position of a fan, we almost never get to see PPP, and it’s fun, goshdarnit!
In the regular season, 185 games went into extras, which is 7.6% of the whole season – of those, 99 games went eleven innings or longer, which is about four percent of total games played. Stretched over a full season for one team, that’s an average of 12.3 extra-inning games each, of which 6.5 will go beyond ten innings. So… what’s the problem here? Are 12 extra-inning games per team really that much of a strain?
One of the best things about baseball is its ability for massive and record-setting things to happen. Things like perfect games, 20-strikeout games, or games with a score of 23-22. Things like 8-run innings, or four-home-run innings, or two grand slams in an inning. Love them or hate them, 19-inning games are a part of that.
Putting an arbitrary limit on things feels cheap and inauthentic – like when I was a kid playing softball and we’d end the inning after five runs scored, no matter how many outs there were. I understand the necessity for that kind of rule when the pitchers are twelve and they’ve walked nine batters in a row, but these are grown men who are capable of playing properly. Why pick apart the purity of the game in the interest of shaving off half an hour here and there? As far as I’m concerned, the more time in the day that baseball is being played, the better.
Extra innings are a rare quirk, something that keeps you on the edge of your seat (if you’re still in it past the 14th inning stretch) and fun to talk about the next day. This rule would effectively put an end to Weird Baseball (an excuse to eat ice cream after midnight) and marathon games on a lazy Sunday afternoon. As a fan of the team who hosted the longest game of 2016, ridiculously long games are anything but a bore. It’s a badge of honour to say you stuck around for the whole thing.
Giving teams a free runner in scoring position is like ending a hockey or soccer game on a shootout – it kind of cheapens the entire thing. Getting a man on base is half the battle, and moving him over has already been done for you as well (although I presume this is to avoid starting the inning with a double play). Now all you have to do is bring him in!
All irrational fan panic aside (when I first read about this I might have said ‘Oh god no, why would you do that?’) this kind of thing also opens up a whole host of logistical issues, so let’s talk about those.
Would they use it in the playoffs? Four of the 37 postseason games this year went to extra innings, including – need I remind you – two Jays games, and Game 7 of the World Series. I’d hate to think that, in some alternate universe, the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years doesn’t happen because people just hate extra innings baseball and want it to be over sooner.
From 2010-2015, a man on 2nd with nobody out led to a run scored 61.4% of the time. It’s by no means a sure thing (one only has to remember all the stranded leadoff doubles the Blue Jays had last season to be reminded of that!) but it is likely to score a potentially game-ending run, and an average of 1.10 runs per inning that began in this situation.
Since both teams get that advantage, a couple of things could theoretically happen here. Either both teams score one run each in their half of the inning, and they keep going back and forth like that, trading one run each until *gasp* you have a 13-inning game on your hands regardless; or both teams fall into the 39% on that given day, the bullpens strike everyone out and you have a 5-inning stalemate. What happens then? Do we call things in a draw after the 12th, like they do in the Asian leagues? Sure, these scenarios are unlikely, but stranger things have happened. This is baseball, after all.
Another issue: who’s the runner? If they really wanted to shake things up, they’d do something dumb like having him be a brand-new pinch runner. Assuming you’re required to use a new one each inning, if the team pinch-ran, pinch-hit or made a defensive switch at any point in the first nine innings, what happens when he’s stranded there? If this happens a few times, you’ll run out of bench players and you’re still going to have to use a position player to pitch – only now you’ve got to do it with a two-man outfield. Hope Melvin Upton Jr.’s been working on his curveball.
Another option, possibly worse than the last one, is to start the leadoff man for the inning at second and have the guy behind him bat first. I hate this. Removing a hitting opportunity from a good player is a detriment to his team, and to the advantage of the pitcher who now gets to avoid him. Josh Donaldson gives you a far better chance of ending a tie game when he’s standing at the plate than he does starting at second base, waiting for the guys behind him to do something.
Say things line up so the other team’s best hitter comes up second in his half of the inning. Now you’ve not only given their pitching an advantage by taking an at-bat away from Donaldson, but the Jays still have to contend with pitching to Mike Trout or whoever. Meanwhile, you’ve possibly taken an easy out away from Toronto’s defence by having some guy who’s 0-for-the-month get to second base for free.
Now, none of the articles covering this topic have suggested any concrete instructions for implementing this – the above are just thought exercises. In international competitions, the manager gets to pick what place in the order he wants to start in the 11th, and the person preceding that guy in the batting order is the runner. Assuming MLB doesn’t adopt the pick-where-you-start aspect of the rule, they might just go with whoever batted last in the inning before.
Lastly, how the heck do you score any of this?? If they use the pinch-runner scenario, where does he go on a lineup card or scoresheet? He’s not replacing the guy ahead of him, so does he get his own line? If the guy on second scores, is that charged as an earned run on the pitcher? It’s not the pitcher’s fault he’s out there. If that’s the deciding run, does the pitcher take the loss? In a truly nightmarish scenario, a pitcher could hypothetically pitch a perfect game and still take the loss. Clearly, there’s a lot to be ironed out here.
If we’re going to resort to this sort of unearned baserunner gimmick, why not make up any other number of rules? I’ve seen tons of them on Twitter – everything ranging from removing a position player every inning, to making fielders wear an eyepatch and smaller gloves. If those sound silly (after all, they’re only in the interest of ending the game faster!), the runner-on-second rule should, too.
Blue Jays players have yet to weigh in, but we’ve gotten one very strong vote of dissent from the National League:
Listen to Thor. Don’t do it.