It may be something that we never see in the major leagues, but Major League Baseball officials like it enough that they will experiment with it this year in the lower level of the minor leagues.
This summer, in the Gulf Coast League, where the Orioles have an affiliate, and in the Arizona League, a runner will be placed at second base to start every extra inning.
That’s a pretty dramatic rule change that seemed to be met with some public resistance over the last few days. A similar rule has been used in international baseball and a similar rule will be used in the World Baseball Classic.
Here is the WBC rule: For any inning beginning with the 11th inning, the team at bat shall begin the inning with runners on first and second base. The batter who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule. The runner on first base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the batter who leads off the inning. The runner on second base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the runner on first base.
That’s even more drastic than the rule change that MLB will experiment with in the minors this year. Former manager Joe Torre, who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, is a strong proponent of the testing.
“Let’s see what it looks like,” Torre told Yahoo Sports. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.
“What really initiated it is sitting in the dugout in the 15th inning and realizing everybody is going to the plate trying to hit a home run and everyone is trying to end the game themselves. I don’t know what inning is the right inning. Maybe the 11th or 12th inning. But there are a number of reasons.”
First thing to understand is that testing the rule in the minors does not ensure it will eventually or ever be used in the majors. And, even if it does eventually come to the majors, that could be years away. Remember when there was discussion about eliminating defensive shifts? Yeah, that never got very far.
But my biggest issue is that it seems MLB is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. How many long extra innings games do teams really play? They are just one team and we are looking at just one season, but the Orioles played only eight extra-innings games last year, which represents about five percent of their schedule.
Those Orioles games that went past nine innings last year lasted 10, 10, 13, 10, 14, 10, 12 and 12 innings. In the rest of the division, New York and Tampa Bay played seven extra innings games, Boston played 11 and Toronto 13. The Los Angeles Angels played just four, the fewest in the league and Houston had the most extra innings games with 18.
Again, is playing too many innings really a problem? Has anyone expressed this as a concern before?
A team that has to play a 14- or 16-inning game just has to deal with it. If that club has to call up fresh arms for the next game, so be it. Those are the current rules and depth through your organization to offset injuries and a situation like a long game is always important. Position players sometimes called on to pitch has long been a part of the game and it doesn’t happen very often.
Proponents of the potential change seem to feel it could force more action in the game, end games sooner to preserve the use of pitchers and it might bring the bunt back as a bigger element of the sport. There is also talk that it will help the game attract more younger fans. But will it do that when this happens only about 10 percent of the time?
The new rule would mean a pitcher could take a loss in a game by allowing a runner to score that he never put on base. And a runner could add a run scored to his total, scoring but never having earned his way on base. Is this real baseball?
Maybe if the rule did get implemented, we’d find out it provides more excitement and we’ll wonder why anyone was ever concerned in the first place. But for now it appears to be that MLB is trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
WBC odds: The online sportsbook Bovada.lv has listed these odds to win the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Team USA, which has advanced to the semi-finals just once in three tries and has never played in the championship game, is the favorite.
2-1: United States
5-2: Dominican Republic
10-1: Puerto Rico and South Korea
25-1: Mexico and the Netherlands
80-1: Chinese Taipei
150-1: Australia, China, Colombia, Italy