Early Wednesday morning, Minor League Baseball announced their pace of play regulations for the 2018 season, and one rule sparked plenty of debate.
Pulling straight from the release, it stated:
At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game, as is the case in all circumstances under the Official Baseball Rules.
Yes, many screamed (and my initial reaction was) “this isn’t baseball, you can’t just throw someone out on second base and call it the same game.” While I still agree the rule is not going to be a success, I do understand the concerns about pitchers and affiliate promotions and demotions needed surrounding a long extra inning game. Which is also addressed in the release:
The procedures, created in partnership with Major League Baseball, aim to reduce the number of pitchers used in extra innings and the issues created by extra innings games, including, but not limited to, shortages of pitchers in the days to follow, the use of position players as pitchers and the transferring of players between affiliates due to pitching shortages caused by extra innings games.
Here is the problem, Minor League Baseball is a developmental system and, while there should not be long extra inning games threatening the health of players, this rule change does not help the development of players...much.
This rule is very similar to international baseball, but was also tried out in the AFL and complex leagues this past season. I happen to be one of the few people who stuck around for a complex league extra inning game (not a pat on the back, just honesty, come extra innings in an Arizona summer, there is nobody around at those games unless you have good reason to be there) and the results were terrible. Runner is placed on second base, leadoff batter tries to bunt him to third (a dying skill), the next batter is intentionally walked, and then the goal becomes double play or take the lead.
What is worse than this horribly repetitive back and forth, is the mood change you can actually feel when this begins. Players suddenly just want to see how quickly the game can end rather than truly battling to get the victory, the coaches almost give the defeated nod of “you know what we need to do, so go do your part”, the game ends and everyone just slowly walks to the bus or clubhouse.
I was not at any AFL games that went to this rule this past season, so I couldn’t speak to the reaction of a reasonable size crowd, but I have been at many AFL games that ended in that god-forsaken concept around baseball, a tie.
That said, not even the AFL calls it a tie, it is a “suspended” game and falls under the “Robinson Rule” which reads as:
No game will exceed 11 innings – the “Robinson Rule.” Games tied after 11 innings will be considered suspended. They will not be made up but the statistics will count.
Now, the standings show these games as ties, and at the end of a game that has been “suspended” due to the Robinson Rule, the mood is similar to the end or a typical game, only both teams act more like they just lost. This is how Minor League Baseball should treat extra-innings moving forward, not by adding a runner to second base.
This will prevent the extended games that open up players to wear and tear and expose them to extra risk of injury, but it also brings a sense of drama to the game. Teams and fans will know the time is truly running out to get the victory while the tension and edge-of-your-seat moments just may increase. Yes, there is something incredibly bittersweet about ending a game in a tie, but wouldn’t you rather see a double in the gap and play at the plate to determine a winner/loser/or tie game, or would you rather rely on the double play/sac fly to determine if the game will end or go on another oddly constructed inning? I am sure there will be an opinion or two, let’s hear what you have to say in the comments thread.