Amid the bevy of rule changes and health and safety precautions accompanying the return of major league baseball in 2020, there’s one in particular that feels like it comes straight out of Little League: the addition of a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. Initially one of Rob Manfred’s many trial balloons floated with the idea of shortening games, the rule has worked its way slowly up the organized-ball ladder, debuting in the World Baseball Classic in 2017, getting added to the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues that summer, and eventually becoming the law of the land throughout all levels of the minors in 2018. Not that it was bound for the bigs any time soon: Back in 2017, Manfred said he “[didn’t] really expect that we’re ever going to apply [the rule] at the major league level.”
Well, times have changed — or more accurately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shortening of the season have led Manfred and company to bring the rule into play, likely for this year only. And on the surface, that makes sense: With only 60 games on the calendar and a potentially limited window in which to play them, it’s in everyone’s best interests to wrap things up quickly. As with the season on the whole, the less baseball, the better.
But how much less baseball is that rule going to create? We have two years’ worth of data from the minors to work with, and per MiLB, the results are notable. Over the last two seasons, just 43 total games went more than three extra innings, compared to 345 in 2016 and ‘17 combined. And as Baseball America’s JJ Cooper notes, nearly three-quarters of all extra-innings minor league games last year and the year before ended in the 10th, as opposed to just under half in the two seasons prior. And nearly all of them — 93% — finished in the 10th or 11th, representing a 20% increase.
That stands to reason. The rule — which puts a runner on second base to lead off the inning — creates a situation in which runs are the norm. A quick check of run expectancy tables shows that a runner on second with no outs led to an average of 1.1 runs scored and created a 61% chance of at least one run scoring from 2010 through ‘15. Both teams get the runner in their half of the inning, so it’s not an unfair advantage for either side, but it does allow the visiting team a chance to take a quick lead or give the home team an immediate opportunity to walk things off. Minor league fans have also noted how the rule immediately ups the drama of extras while also putting a new focus on fundamentals and putting the ball in play. Read the rest of this entry »