The already unprecedented 2020 Major League Baseball season has added a brand-new element to extra innings baseball. At its most basic level, if 9 innings are completed and the game remains tied, every subsequent half-inning will begin with a runner on second base for both the home and away teams. This will be in effect during the regular season only.
The primary objective of this rule adopted from the minor leagues is to simply expedite games. The reviews have been mixed with a vast majority of fans opposing the rule, especially prior to the start of the season. However, as this 60-game COVID-19 riddled season trucks on, it’s beginning to hold a place in the hearts of many because we realized, it’s entertaining as hell.
It’s important to breakdown the details of the rule change (Where is the MLB’s version of Mike Pereira?). The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning is the player who made the last out the previous half-inning (or whoever is in their position in the lineup).
Let’s use the top of the New York Yankees’ batting order as an example: (1) DJ LeMahieu; (2) Aaron Judge; (3) Gleyber Torres (did you know he’s only 23 years old?). Let’s suppose Aaron Judge commits the final out in the bottom of the ninth. Fast-forwarding to the bottom of the tenth, Aaron Judge would be placed on second base at the start of the inning and Gleyber Torres would be the lead-off batter. This process would continue for all succeeding extra innings until, well, a team wins.
This scenario is a nightmare for the old school stat junkies. The runner who begins the extra inning on second base is considered to have “reached base” because of a “fielding error”, but no error is charged to the fielding team. If that runner were to score, there would be no impact to the pitcher’s ERA.
Unfortunately for that pitcher, it does result in a statistical loss if the run ends up being the winning run for the opposing team. You just hate to see it. For hitters, statistics are business as usual. Hitters will receive an RBI for knocking in the duck on the pond and the baserunner will be credited with a run on the stat sheet. This is no longer your father’s baseball league.
Baseball traditionalists are strongly opposing the extra innings change. First, it goes against the tradition of America’s Pastime. Free baserunners must make Honus Wagner roll over in his grave. Second, it reduces the probability of one of the wilder aspects of baseball: position players pitching (never forget Ichiro’s iconic inning on the mound).
Things get weird late in the game and managers must make decisions that make both the players and the fans uncomfortable. The opposition to the new rule also argues it is punishing pitchers and rewarding hitters for essentially doing absolutely nothing. For instance, the pitcher gives up a bloop single or dinky ground ball up the middle and that’s it, game over. The “build-up” of getting runners on, moving them over, and so forth, is gone. Unless you’re a team that yaboos dingers, then it doesn’t matter.
Let’s paint a quick hypothetical. It’s Game 32 of 60 and your team is in the 17th inning. It’s now 1 am, you accidentally finished that entire gallon of ice cream, and you have a Zoom meeting in the morning with the boss you hate. You’ve been invested since the first pitch and there is no chance you’re throwing in the towel now; no one wants to miss the game-winning hit. Having fun? Probably not. In 2019 alone, there was a 17-inning, 18-inning, and 19-inning game, which not to mention is completely detrimental to the bullpens. Both players and fans (let’s be honest, we care more about our well-being anyway) cannot endure the long-standing history of baseball game marathons.
The new rule adds an unprecedented element of intensity that makes baseball games exponentially more entertaining. In the dog days of summer, drama can go a long way and that is exactly what this rule accomplishes. Take the NHL, for instance, *insert image of NY Rangers ping-pong ball*. Implemented prior to the 2015-16 season, if the game is tied at the end of regulation, the contest flips from 5v5 hockey to 3v3 hockey and it is absolutely BANANAS. Fewer players, more space, insane intensity. The similarity here is leveraging the regulation rules and turning it up a notch in overtime/extra innings for that extra dose of excitement.
Regardless if you like it, hate it, or are indifferent, the new extra innings rule is necessary for the timely completion of the 2020 MLB season. Mr. Commissioner Bobby Manfred, will this rule be a permanent staple in the game in 2021 and beyond? Well, I don’t know – he’s on third.
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