As part of the pandemic-season rule changes last year, MLB introduced its new, and somewhat controversial, extra-innings format. During the regular season, all extra innings began with a runner on second base and no outs. Just like seven-inning doubleheaders, the extra-innings rule carried over into the 2021 season.
Last year, SI's MLB staff weighed in with their thoughts on the new extra-innings rule. At the time, it was considered an experiment in the most unusual season. Now that it's here again this year, and possibly indefinitely, we revisited the new format.
The free runner on second base to start extra innings is an idea that has been even better in practice than it was in theory. You are introducing strategy and an instant rally into a game that needs more of both.
Fans seem to like it. Ratings for extra innings on MLB.TV have doubled with the rule, and fans at the ballpark come alive when they see the home team batting with a runner in scoring position. And if fans like it, then it’s okay by me. As an added bonus, managers like it because you don’t get those super long extra-inning games that wipe out a pitching staff, creating a domino effect for the next two days.
I first thought the rule was half-baked because it is not used in the postseason. I mean, why play by two sets of rules? But the grind of the regular season is different from the immediacy of the postseason (see: NHL overtime rules). And somehow it just feels right to play out a postseason game to its “organic” ending, even if it takes 18 innings.
But the regular-season rule does need one more tweak, which I’ve been pointing out for years. If you are going to artificially reset the game, you must go all the way with the reset and start with the top of the batting order, not picking up where the last inning ended. Put the No. 9 hitter (or pinch runner) at second base and start with the leadoff hitter. Why?
1. The rule is designed to end the game quickly. Batting orders are designed for maximum run production, starting from the top. Therefore, you have a better chance of runs.
2. Let the stars decide the game. Tom Brady and LeBron James are going to have the ball in their hands in crunch time. Here is an opportunity for baseball to make sure its star players always get a chance to bat with the game tied in extra innings. My best vs. your best.
3. Resetting the lineup means your star players are even more valuable. Giving them more plate appearances with the game on the line adds to their worth, both in terms of money and prestige.
4. Folks, we’re putting a free runner on second base out of nowhere, so going to a reset of the batting order isn’t sacrilegious. Think of it as a complete reset, just as in other sports. A football team doesn’t carry over down and distance and possession when overtime begins. So now that we’ve already crossed the threshold to a gerrymandered ending to extra innings, let’s make sure we see Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman and the like try to end the game.
I didn't particularly mind the rule last year—the circumstances were strange; the schedule was a grind; there was a clear reason to minimize additional playing time. But I don't think it should have any place in the game going forward. It doesn't seem to make games much quicker and certainly doesn't make them more entertaining. (Turns out that a runner on second does not feel as exciting when there's no buildup to get him there!) If MLB is dead set on trying to make extras move more quickly, I'd almost rather see them just agree to call games a tie after 12 innings, like they do in KBO.
I'm fully in favor of the new extra innings rule. Putting a runner on second base means more strategy, more action on the base paths and—most important—fewer 15-inning marathons that end up killing both teams' bullpens and boring casual fans to sleep. Keep it the old way for the playoffs, but in a 162-game season, we should be looking for ways to speed things up a bit as the game has slowed to a crawl.
After just one weekend I was already in love with the new extra-innings format. Every game that goes to extra innings feels like an event because the potential winning run is only 180 feet away. The new format injects action into extra innings. There is still no time limit, but these games don't drag on, either. With a runner on second, teams don't have to just bank on the home run to win it; one base hit, instead of three singles, can break the tie, so there's more incentive to put the ball in play.
I've compared it to the college football overtime rule: The game clock is turned off and each team begins each round of overtime from the opposing 25-yard line. It should be easier for teams to score, but there's no hard deadline for the games to end. Baseball games should never end in a tie—sorry, Emma—but we shouldn't have to wait for a Quad-A pitcher to give up a homer in the 18th inning of a random Tuesday-night game in June. The new format is the solution, though the traditional extra-innings format must remain in the postseason. The playoffs deserve the tension of full extra innings.
Also, I endorse Tom's reset rule. But, I can't help but think how exciting it would be for the Padres to begin every extra inning with Fernando Tatis Jr. at second base. So, maybe make an exception for him? Either way, this new extra-innings format rules.
I don't hate the runner-on-second rule, but I prefer going back to the old way. As someone who genuinely loves the prospect of a 16- or 17-inning death march that pushes games past midnight, it is admittedly exciting to have every extra inning essentially begin mid-rally. But I think the less gimmicky things can get the better of it, so a return to the way things were is preferred. I wonder whether the new rule provides a competitive advantage to, say, contact-heavy lineups more capable of putting the ball in play and advancing the runner to third with fewer than two outs. It might be too soon to have a sample large enough to draw any conclusions on that front, though.
I have no problem with the current extra-innings rule in the regular season. This setup prevents a long parade of relievers for games in the dog days of summer, and the rule adds some legitimate excitement for each half frame of an extra-inning contest. Should this rule be adopted for the postseason? No way. But for the first 162, I enjoy the dose of creativity.