I was fighting some insomnia late last night when I saw an article about how minor league baseball field staff, players, and executives thought about the new extra-innings rule:
“At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.”
Whatever the motivation, the new rule immediately generated an avalanche of incredulous, if not downright negative, fan-driven social media conversation. But what do those within Minor League Baseball think about it? To answer that question, MiLB.com’s Sam Dykstra, Ben Hill, Josh Jackson and Tyler Maun surveyed individuals working at a number of different positions within Minor League Baseball’s vast ecosystem. Their perspectives varied, but taken as a whole seem to suggest those within the game have more quickly embraced the rule than those outside of it.
We have talked a bit about the pace of play stuff in the past, including the mound visits and just keeping the dead time to a minimum. I am generally in favor of keeping the game flowing, because I prefer to see action than inaction, like most of us. However, baseball is also about relaxing, and there’s something to be said about weirdness during and between plays as well. I believe most of the issue stems from baseball becoming a three true outcomes sport due to analytics coercing players to change their approaches to generate more fly balls (therefore waiting for more hittable pitches becoming strikeouts or walks, while the balls that get hit may often leave the yard and prevent defensive wizardry). So maybe the best change is to force more balls in play so we can appreciate athletic plays more, like doubles in the gap or strong throws to generate close plays at each base. Until MLB and MiLB decide to tighten up the zone and to employ more contact, line drive hitters, though, we will have to deal with the game as is. But that doesn’t mean even us die hards want to be at the ball park forever.
The opinions by the baseball folks on the new man-on-second to begin extra innings rule generally follow the same trend. Players don’t actually like it but know they’ll just have to deal with it. Some players have already played with a version of that rule in international play, so they know what to expect. Trainers and executives are happy with the potential reduction in fatigue and injuries that could arise from the rare 18-inning game, and I tend to agree with them. At the minor league level, development takes precedence, and not forcing relievers to throw essentially an entire start’s worth of pitches in extras is good for the long-term outlook of both the player and the organization. I guess we will miss the rare opportunities for heroics from a position player, though.
For the most part, the interviewed individuals agreed that the rule made sense at the minor league level and should probably not be used in MLB. I would hate to see this in MLB, particularly since players should have been nearly fully developed by the time they reach the highest level and are more physically mature. Also, extra inning games very rarely go past the tenth or eleventh innings anyway, so I feel like a fundamental shift in the way the game is played is too drastic of a change for a level that is more about winning than it is about development. So yes, keep this rule in the minors.
I really like how some player development personnel are embracing the rule as another teaching opportunity:
“We’ll have to play within the confines of the rules and understand how to execute. From a pitching standpoint, we’re going to have to work on how to handle that type of situation with runners on. We’ll have to practice it here, and it’ll be part of our program to work on these situations. Not just in Spring Training but as part of our fundamentals going forward.” — Mark Scialabba, Washington Nationals director of player development.
When the rule was first officially announced, there was a mini-discussion of how this would pan out. I also wonder whether it creates additional stress for the extra innings relievers, knowing that a run scored could make it more difficult to win (if scored by the road team) or end the game right there (if scored by the home team). Additionally, many suggested that the very first play would almost always be a bunt to move the man over to third with just one out, followed by an intentional walk to set up the inning-ending double play. This did get me to joke that they could save time by putting runners at the corners with just one out to start the inning, and I think we saw something like this happen in the World Baseball Classic too, when pretty much the same thing I suggested would happen in extras.
From a developmental standpoint, practicing end-game situations with a built-in mechanism like this rule seems valuable. It can be done in simulated games or in practice, but there’s nothing like a real-game situation to build baseball intelligence and muscle memory, so I can totally dig this idea.
From a game theory standpoint, I think it actually benefits the road team to not bunt, but try to get a big inning and prevent the home team from walking off with just that one run. The home team should obviously play for the one run if the road team can’t score. This gives both sides opportunities over the course of the season to practice their “escape from jam” and endgame scenarios. But again, by the time they get to MLB, they should know what to do, so please keep this rule out of MLB.
MiLB is a lot of fun, and they are an important part of the community that supports them, too. There’s even a classic baseball movie about a minor league team, and I enjoyed the games I went to at their new stadium when I lived down in those parts. MiLB also has some of the coolest promotions around, including this:
33 teams. 33 new identities. One trophy.
— MiLB.com (@MiLB) March 20, 2018
And this has to be my favorite promotion of the bunch:
MiLB is a fun experience, and I believe setting up a mechanism to accelerate the end of games seems like a good way to keep it fun, particularly in communities where there’s not much to do at night after the game and people just want to go home. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about the rule, I like it as a teaching tool and as a way to improve health and longevity for the players. I think MLB and MiLB did a good thing to preserve the welfare of their players and they should be commended for it. Again, just make sure it stays away from the majors and I’ll be content.
Of course, they could probably do more by actually paying the players, but I suppose that’s a story for another day.