Starting in the upcoming spring training, and possibly also to be used in the 2018 All-Star Game, Major League Baseball will be experimenting with a radical change to the fundamentals of the game. Staring in the 10th inning, a runner will automatically start the inning on second base. Spring training games will also be capped at 10 innings. This is the latest change set into action from MLB commissioner Robert Manfred in his quest to speed up the pace of play. However, this is by far the most radical change to be experimented with.
This idea isn’t just out of left field, it’s out of the stadium entirely, presumably because the baseball gods banished it from their house of worship for being so sacrilegious. While the average length of a nine inning regular season game exceeded the three-hour mark for the first time in the modern baseball era, to call for fundamentally changing the way the game is played is plain idiotic. Just ask NHL fans about how they feel about overtime shootouts. In Manfred’s quest to appeal to younger, more hip viewers, he is loosing touch on what keeps people interested in the game.
In 2017 MLB set another record for revenue, earning $10 billion for the first time in history. Twelve teams were No. 1 in prime-time television ratings for their markets, up from nine teams the year before, and in terms of cable viewers, just four teams were not No. 1 (and two of those teams Mets and Angels, were No. 2 due to the existence of the Dodgers and Yankees). To put it bluntly, the game seems to be as healthy as it ever has been. Embarking on a radical rule change seems unwise and dangerous, and when you look at some of the corresponding data available, it appears MLB is completely missing some key problems.
Last year, the Gulf Coast League and the Arizona Fall League tried out this new extra inning rule. The results were that the average game time in an extra inning games in these leagues was 16 minutes shorter than the average game time in all other minor league games. The problem here is that in 2017 only 7.5 percent of MLB games went to extra innings. This is not helping to actually speed up the pace of play — it’s simply looking to shorten the longest games by radically changing the rules. And there don’t seem to be more extra innings games being played today compared to years past. If anything, the trend of games that go to extra innings is fairly neutral, maybe even slightly decreasing, since 1961.
What is increasing are the number of pitchers used in an average game. Actually, when you overlay the graph of average nine inning game time and average number of pitchers used, there is a pretty strong connection.
By looking to shorten extra inning games, Commissioner Manfred is looking to appease baseball fans by giving them less baseball. One could argue that extra innings can be the most exciting part of a game as each hit, each strike is vitally important to the outcome of the game. And the games that go on to the 18th and 19th innings when position players start warming up on the mound are a unique quirk that can draw fans from other teams to tune in just to see the antics unfold. But Manfred doesn’t seem to be a fan of fun and instead wants to simply end the games as soon as possible, because its way past his bedtime and he needs to go count his money and dive into his vault of gold to go swimming, a la Scrooge McDuck. In his quest to make the game more “appealing” he is cutting out the very things that appeal to the people that tune in regularly and keep the coffers overflowing.
In short, I think David Ortiz summed up my response to this change the best…