Well okay then. Baseball is serious about these pace of play rules.
Today, Minor League Baseball announced that starting in 2018, all extra innings would begin with a runner on second base. The gist of the rule is simple: the player who batted last in the previous inning starts on second base during extra innings. This rule will be applied to all levels of the minor leagues.
HOW CAN WE BEAR THE AGONY? DESTROYING THE SANCTITY OF THE INSTITUTION OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL BY THE BLASPHEMOUS DESECRATION OF ITS HALLOWED TRADITIONS???
Angst aside. How would this work in the major leagues?
Playing pretend with the 2017 Astros
What if we studied quantum physics, made a machine with lots of fancy lights and buttons, pressed one of those buttons, opened a tesseract*, time traveled through, blackmailed MLB commissioner Manfred, and implemented this rule change to the Major Leagues in 2017?
*No, I didn’t see the movie, nor do I plan to. I read the book several times when I was a teenager. It’s great. Just the type of thing that Disney would choose to ruin with questionable casting, fabricated scenes to highlight stars that otherwise would have been barely cameos, use their evil proboscis to siphon off any philosophical meaning, and push political and social agendas with.
Digression aside, the 2017 Astros played eight regular season games and two World Series games that reached extra innings. Using play-by-play data, let’s extrapolate the likely outcome of each.
Game 3, April 5th, SEA @ HOU:
Actual Score: HOU 5–3 SEA, Houston Wins in 13
What would probably have happened: The tenth inning and top of the eleventh would have been as enjoyed in reality, only with the runner sitting like a bump on a log at second for both clubs. [ed note: we are ignoring imponderables like, “would the runner attempt a steal of 3rd” and instead are sticking with probabilities. Most managers aren’t going to risk throwing away the gift of a free fast runner in scoring positions by stealing 3rd. Usually. Read on.]
In the bottom of the eleventh, Josh Reddick‘s double off of Nick Vincent with zero outs would certainly have scored the gift runner at 2B, resulting in a walk-off win. The game would have ended 4-3 Astros in the bottom of the eleventh inning instead of 5-3 in the bottom of the thirteenth.
New final score: HOU 4-3 SEA, Houston Wins in 11
Outcome change: No.
Game 7, April 9th, KCR @ HOU
Actual Score: HOU 5-4 KCR
In the top of the twelfth, Paulo Orlando‘s single to left-center might have scored the runner with one out. But Alcides Escobar‘s fly out to center with one out would definitely have scored him from third, putting the Royals ahead 5-4.
George Springer‘s single back to the pitcher probably would not have advanced the runner, but runners would have been on first and second instead of just first. Following that, Alex Bregman‘s bunt groundout (1B-2B) sacrifice would have advanced both runners. Jose Altuve still would have been intentionally walked to try to induce the double play.
But at this point, the bases are loaded earlier than they eventually were in real life (when Evan Gattis worked a walk-off walk, scoring Springer). In our alternate world, Carlos Correa‘s groundout to third base (force out at 2nd) would have had three possible outcomes:
- 3B throws for a force-out of the gift runner at home plate. In this event, the bases are still loaded, and Brian McCann‘s successive walk would have walked in the run instead of Gattis’ later walk. Astros tie the game at 5 at that point, and Gattis’ walk would represent a 6-5 win for the Astros.
- Play happens as it did, with a forceout at second base, and the gift runner scores, tying the game. Regardless of the defensive indifference that allowed Correa to take second base next, McCann’s walk would have loaded the bases, and Gattis’ walk would have won the game.
- Correa’s weak grounder to 3B turns into a 5-4-3 double play. If the defender is paying attention, this is the most likely outcome of the inning, ending the game as a 5-4 Royals win. If the defender isn’t paying attention, or he flubs it, or he throws to home and the catcher can’t make the turn, options 1 or 2 would lead to an Astros win.
New final score: Unsure; too many variables
Outcome change: Unknown
Game 19, April 23rd, HOU @ TBR
Actual Score: 6-4 Astros
In the top of the tenth, with Beltran already at first via walk, Altuve’s single to short left field would have definitely advanced the gift runner to 3B. Correa’s lineout to deep right center would have scored the runner, making the score 6-4 Astros.
McCann’s following single would have scored Beltran (as it did in reality) and Yuli Gurriel’s following single would have scored Altuve, with McCann getting thrown out at third.
New Final Score: 7-4 Astros
Outcome change: No
Game 30, May 5th, HOU @ LAA
Actual Score: 7-6 Astros
In the top of the tenth, Altuve’s liner to second base would have advanced the gift runner to third base. After Altuve steals second, Correa’s single to right field would have scored both runners instead of just Altuve.
New Final Score: 8-6 Astros
Outcome change: No
Game 93, July 17th, SEA @ HOU
Actual Score: 7-9 SEA
In the top of the tenth, Kyle Seager‘s home run with nobody on (off of Tony Sipp, no shocker) would have scored two runners instead of one. Danny Valencia‘s following homer (c’mon, Sipp!!) would have been the final score.
New Final Score: 10-7 Mariners
Outcome change: No
Game 110, August 5th, TOR @ HOU
Actual Score: 3-4 Blue Jays
In the top of the tenth inning, Rob Refsnyder drew a walk against Francisco Liriano, which would have put runners on first and second bases. This would have prevented Refsnyder’s steal (probably). The second base runner, however, would have scored on Goins’ single to left field, as Refsnyder had in real life. Goins and Refsnyder would have advanced to second and third bases on the bad throw.
An alternate possibility is if the runner on second base was capable enough, Refsnyder’s steal could have become a double steal instead, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd prior to Goins’ single. In this case, two runners would have scored on that single.
New Final Score: 4-3 Jays or 5-3 Jays
Outcome change: No
Game 114, August 10th, HOU @ CHW
Actual Score: 3-2 White Sox
In the top of the tenth, Altuve’s single to right field with two outs likely would have scored the runner at second base. In this case, the Astros would have won after the tenth inning instead of losing in the 11th. In the bottom of the tenth, Francis Martes struck out the side, and the White Sox didn’t get a real-life baserunner until the next inning when Yoan Moncada scored Leury Garcia on a walk-off single to right field.
Here we have our first outcome change, and it is in the Astros’ favor.
New Final Score: 3-2 Astros
Outcome Change: Yes
Game 127, August 24th, WSN @ HOU
Actual Score: 4-5 Nationals
Here’s a fun one. In the top of the eleventh inning, Wilmer Difo‘s bunt single to third base probably would not have advanced the gift runner at second. Difo might not even have bunted in that scenario, but let’s stick with what we know.
The runners would have advanced on Daniel Murphy‘s ground out off Tyler Clippard, but then a lot of things would go crazy. Clippard faced Ryan Zimmerman, who advanced to first on a wild pitch strikeout. This wild pitch probably would have scored the runner at third base, although if Clippard covered home plate effectively, some uncertainty creeps in. Based on what we know, the runner, Howie Kendrick, would have scored, making it 4-3 Nationals, with Difo advancing to 3B.
The rest of the inning would have played out the same: Anthony Rendon‘s sacrifice fly scored Difo, and Matt Wieters‘ deep line drive to right center would have scored Zimmerman, making the score 6-3 Nationals.
On the other hand, if Clippard and McCann were able to get Kendrick at home plate on the wild pitch, the game would have stood at 5-5 after the eleventh inning, and would have continued on with uncertain outcome.
Then in the bottom of the inning, J.D. Davis‘ homer would have scored two instead of one, and the game would have ended with a score of 6-5.
New Final Score: 6-5 Nationals
Outcome Change: Probably not.
World Series Game 2
Actual Score: 7-6 Astros
It is reasonable to expect that if this rule were ever implemented in MLB, it would NOT be in play during the playoffs. At least, I hope that would be the decision.
Even with the rule though, Game 2 would have been even more nuts than it actually was.
In the bottom of the tenth, Altuve’s homer would have scored two instead of just himself. Correa’s bases-empty blast would have made the score 6-3 Astros.
But in the bottom of the inning, Yasiel Puig‘s homer off of Ken Giles would have closed it to 6-5 Astros, and Kike Hernandez’ single later in the inning would have tied the game at 6-6 instead of 5-5.
In the eleventh, Maybin’s single to short center field would have advance a runner to third base, and Springer’s homer would have pushed the score to 9-6 instead of 7-5.
Finally, Charlie Culberson‘s homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning would have made the score 9-8 instead of 7-6.
New Score: 9-8 Astros
Outcome Change: No
World Series Game 5
Actual Score: 13-12 Dodgers
In the tenth, Andre Ethier‘s single to left field would have advanced the gift runner to third base. Cody Bellinger‘s deep fly out to right-center would have scored that runner, making it 13-12 Dodgers.
In the bottom, Gattis’ groundout would not have advanced the runner from second because the hit was in the SS-3B hole. It may have been a double play, but there was no force so let’s assume it wouldn’t have been.
McCann’s hit-by-pitch by Kenley Janson would have put runners on first and second, and Springer’s walk would have loaded the bases. In this situation, it is not clear if Derek Fisher would have been pinch-run for McCann at second base, but we have to assume that he would, absent other information.
Bregman’s walk-off single would have scored two batters instead of one, with Fisher still scoring from second base, making it 14-13 Astros. More drama, same outcome.
New Score: 14-13 Astros
Outcome Change: No.
There we have it. Ten extra-inning games. One change in outcome, and one game that would have run even longer than it actually did.
In only one case would the new rule have actually saved any game time, on August 10th, when the Astros would have closed out the game in the tenth inning instead of losing in the 11th.
Granted, this is a foolhardy exercise (albeit a fun one) because starting the inning with a runner on second changes the dynamics and strategy of the game. He adds pressure on the pitcher that wouldn’t have been there with zero outs and no runners on. He gives the manager more strategic options, and might have changed outcomes.
But if everything else in the universe stays the same, and based on this sample of one team alone during one season, it is hard to understand how this rule change meaningfully affects the game time for all but a minuscule portion of games.