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Extra-Inning Rules: Here's What To Expect As MLB Adopts Minor League Change For 2020



For the abbreviated 2020 season, Major League Baseball has agreed to adopt the extra-inning rules that Minor League Baseball used for 2018 and 2019. We have covered those rules extensively over the past few years. Here is some of what we’ve learned.

Understandably many fans are going to be repulsed by the idea, which changes how extra innings work in a way that alters 150 years of baseball history. We’re not trying to sway opinions here as much as share insights.

1. It shortens games

Love it or hate it, the extra-inning speed-up rule does what it is designed to do—finish games more quickly.

In 2016 and 2017, the final two years under traditional extra-inning rules, 44% of extra-inning games for full-season minor league clubs finished after the 10th inning. In 2018 and 2019, the first two years under the speed-up rule where a runner begins on second base, 73% of extra-inning games ended after the 10th inning.

Even more dramatically, almost all extra-inning games with the speed-up rule were finished after two extra innings. From 2016-2017, 69% of extra-inning games were completed by the 11th inning. From 2018-2019, 93% of extra inning games had wrapped up by the 11th.

And the speed-up rule makes the crazy, extremely long extra-inning games a distant memory. From 2016-2017, 39 extra-inning games went 16 innings or longer (3% of all 1,429 extra-inning games). From 2018-2019 there were none. The longest extra-inning games with the new rules were a pair of 15-inning games, one in 2018 and one in 2019—there were 67 games that lasted that long or longer in 2016 and 2017 combined.

2. Some Like The Idea

The idea of putting a runner on second was met with widespread revulsion when it came to the minors. There are still plenty of fans and some players/officials who remain utterly opposed to the idea, but those who have seen it in action in the minors have often grown more accepting of the idea.

Now, this is obviously not a full sampling of all opinions on the extra-inning rule in the minors, but here are some minor league broadcasters, players and fans who found they didn’t hate the idea like they first thought they would.

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3. It Causes Some Statistical Issues

The runner placed on second counts as an unearned run if it scores, so while that run does go on the pitcher’s ledger, it is only marked as an unearned run. In a quick-and-dirty calculation using Double-A pitching statistics from 2016-2019 (two years under the old rules and two years under the new rules), the addition of the extra-inning rule did not seem to dramatically affect ERAs.

(We did not use Triple-A statistics because the switch to the MLB ball in 2019 created a massive variable).

ERAs for all Double-A starting pitchers in 2016 and 2017 combined was 3.96. In 2018 and 2019, it was 4.00. Starting pitchers were not affected by the rule change as none of them were pitching in the 10th inning or beyond. For relievers, the ERA in 2016 and 2017 was 3.68 and in 2018 and 2019 it was 3.67. So there is no indication that relievers' ERAs have been significantly harmed by the rule changes.

The rule has significantly affected relievers' overall runs allowed and runs allowed average. Starters' runs allowed average (RAA) for 2016 and 2017 was 4.45 per nine innings. It was 4.47 for 2018 and 2019.

For all Double-A pitchers, relievers’ RAA for 2016 and 2017 was 4.18. It jumped to 4.35 in 2018 and 2019. In every other case, the run environments for starters and relievers were very similar from the final two years under the old rules and the first two years with the new rules. But the extra-inning rules significantly alter how many runs relievers allow.

In recent years there has been a push in analytical circles to focus less on earned runs and ERA and more on total runs and RAA. With the extra-inning rule, relievers' RAA will go up.

Looking solely at extra-inning games explains this much more starkly. In 2016 and 2017, relievers had a 2.99 ERA in extra-inning games and a 3.60 RAA. In 2018 and 2019, relievers had a 3.57 ERA and a 10.08 RAA. So if you are a reliever who gets the ball for the 10th inning, there’s a very high likelihood of giving up a run.

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