It probably will not matter, but here’s a simple question: should the Major League Baseball plate appearance and innings requirements to qualify for league titles be modified because of the seven-inning doubleheader rule as well as shortened extra-inning games because of the runner placed on second?
For years, the requirements for the minor leagues (2.7 plate appearances per scheduled game and .8 IP per scheduled game) have been reduced from the 3.1 plate appearances and 1 IP per scheduled game that have been the MLB requirements to qualify for batting, on-base, slugging and ERA titles. That differentiation may be partly because MiLB players are often promoted to the majors, but the minors have long had seven-inning doubleheaders and in recent years have had shortened extra-inning games because of a runner being placed on second base. So in addition to the player movement, there’s also been a distinction in the length of the games themselves.
Beginning with last year’s 60-game shortened MLB season, both of those rules apply to the majors as well, which means that the average game has been shortened. In 2021, the average MLB game is 8.77 innings long. In 2019, the average MLB game was 8.93 innings long. In 2018 it was 8.94 innings. If the current pace continues to the end of the season, the 2021 season will involve 818 fewer innings of baseball than the 2019 season.
Looked at another way, this year the average game involves 37.4 plate appearances per team. in 2019, it was 38.4, and in 2018 it was 38.1.
Now admittedly, the number of plate appearances per game will vary based on offensive conditions (in 1968 it was 37.1 PAs per team per game thanks to an absence of hits and walks), but this is a change to the very rules of the game that has reduced the average team’s total plate appearances by roughly 162 plate appearances per team.
This isn’t just an academic exercise. Currently Starling Marte’s .322 batting average tops all MLB hitters. But he also has 450 plate appearances with 19 games remaining in Oakland’s season. Marte is likely to reach the 502 plate appearance threshold, but if he misses any time at all, he could fall just a little short. If the requirement had been amended to something as simple as 3.05 plate appearances per game because of shortened games, that could be the difference between Marte qualifying for a batting title or not.
Marte also is potentially heading towards a reverse-Willie McGee scenario. In 1990, McGee was traded to the American League after hitting .334 in 524 plate appearances in the National League. McGee finished with the best batting average in the NL, but thanks to hitting only .274 after the trade to the AL, Bill Madlock led the majors in batting, even though McGee topped Madlock for the NL batting title.
In Marte’s case, he will not qualify for either the AL or NL crown, but if he gets enough plate appearances, he could finish with the best batting average in the majors.
Similarly, Fernando Tatis Jr. leads the majors in slugging percentage right now, but his 467 plate appearances means he needs to play regularly (as he is expected to do) down the stretch to meet the 502 PA requirement.
White Sox righthander Lance Lynn’s 2.50 ERA leads all AL pitchers, but with 140.2 innings pitched in 143 games, he is going to finish on a razor’s edge of either meeting the 162 innings pitched requirement or not.
It’s possible that no league batting or pitching crown will be affected by the lost innings brought about by the seven-inning doubleheader and shortened extra-inning rules, but with multiple categories having leaders who may either qualify or fail to qualify by small margins, the subtle changes to the length of games could affect who will walk away with a batting title or ERA crown.