Some Fresh Ideas To Solve The Extra Inning Problem

By Paul DISCLAFANI

I really wanted to hate the notion of putting two runners on base to start the 11th inning that happened in the World Baseball Classic.  MLB is using a modified rule to be tried out in the low-level minors this season.  Most baseball purists gag at the thought of such a gimmick to help decide a game that is tied after “regulation”.

Although MLB is looking on ways to speed up the pace of games, that’s not the reason to do this.  Let’s face it, baseball is not hockey or football or even basketball.  Those sports allow for free substitution during the contest.  They don’t lose players as the game goes along unless they are ejected from the contest for some sort of grievous assault.

The nature of baseball requires that once a player leaves the game, he is not eligible to return under any circumstance.  Therefore, the idea of playing “extra” innings to result a game becomes a nightmare for managers who have most likely done everything possible to get their team past the ninth inning.

Hockey continues to “tweak” their regular season overtime rules to not only protect their players from fatigue issues that could come with a full 20-minute overtime or possible multiple overtime periods.  But they also want to help ensure that a team doesn’t just use the overtime to prevent a goal from being scored so they can get to the shoot out by playing a possession game for five minutes.  The three-on-three hockey has been some of the most exciting hockey to watch all season as it allows the teams to free skate and be creative with the puck on the massive open ice.

Football also tweaked their overtime rules to allow both teams a chance to possess the ball (although that doesn’t always happen, see Super Bowl LI).

Why not baseball?  Although hitting the ball and running the bases hasn’t changed in 150 years, the usage of pitchers certainly has.  20 years ago, baseball managers would not have already used five pitchers by the time the ninth inning came around, so there were plenty of arms left in the bullpen for 15 inning games.

And that’s the issue.  You can use a pitcher to play in the outfield when you get to the 19th inning if you have to, but if you have burned your bullpen by the 13th inning, what are you gonna do?

The purpose of extra innings is to decide a winner, right?  If the game is tied after nine innings, we keep playing until both teams have recorded three outs in a half inning.  You need pitchers to record outs.

The 16-inning game between the Mets and Marlins has been more detrimental to the Mets bullpen than the Marlins, as the Mets blew three straight games in the Marlins last at bats.  Terry Collins had already made up his mind that backup catcher Rene Rivera, who was playing first at the time, would have pitched the 17th inning and Jacob deGrom, a pitcher recovering from surgery and scheduled to start two nights later, would have to play first base.

Granted, situations like this are fun for the fans and create “classic” games remembered for ever, but are they worth it?

Today’s NY Post article by Joel Sherman intimated that baseball would be just fine if they declared the game a tie after three extra innings.  I don’t like that.  A game is a competition and a winner should always be declared.  You pay good money to watch the games, you invest a lot of time and effort into the outcome of the game, you expect a payoff – good or bad for your team.  Nobody goes home happy if the game ends in a tie.

How about some of these solutions?

  • Would the world come to an end if baseball adopted a version of the WBC rule for extra innings?  Would it be so bad that after 12 innings, you put a runner on second to start the inning?  After 15 innings, you put a runner on third to start the inning.  If both teams have the same scenario, it seems fair to me.
  • What about allowing free substitution in the field (including pitchers) during the extra innings?  This allows you to use your backup catcher without fear of not having someone to catch with an injury.  If you want to be drastic, allow the position players who were taken out of the game be brought back to their original place in the lineup.
  • What about letting the teams reset their lineups starting in the 10th inning – each team starts with top of the order?
  • How about increasing the rosters to 30 and selecting 25 for each game, allowing for “healthy scratches”?  That solves your problem for pitching the next day or two.  You can also replace yesterday’s starter with a fresh arm.
  • What about playing three extra innings and then deciding the game with a limited home run derby?  Each team picks three players and each player gets three swings.  One from Team A then one from Team B and so on – kind of like the shootout in hockey.  When one teams records more home runs than the other team has swings left, they win.

Again – I know these are gimmicks, but I am a baseball purest and can’t even stand the designated hitter, so why am I on board with this blasphemous way to end a ballgame?

Because the nature of the pitching game has changed and the game hasn’t changed with it.  When pitching was in trouble, they raised the mound.  When pitching was dominant, they lowered the mound.

Extra innings are a tax on the pitchers, not the hitters.  You have a limited number of pitchers and this generations has been bred to throw a limited number of pitches.  That’s just the way it is.  If we are not going to expand the rosters to 27 or 28 players, then we need a way to limit the strain on the bullpen during extra-inning games that go beyond 12 innings.

There are 162 regular season games and in 2013, baseball set a record with 237 extra-inning games.  From 2011-2015, teams that went to extra innings with a starter that got into the eighth inning were 109-83 (.568 winning percentage).  Teams that went to their bullpen within the first five innings were 228-264.

Time for baseball to reconsider how to end games that are tied after 27 outs, for the sake of the pitchers.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

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