Major League Baseball is testing a rule to start extra innings with a runner on second

Does a Big Papi home run make a sound if there is almost no one there to hear it?
Does a Big Papi home run make a sound if there is almost no one there to hear it?
Image: AP/Bill Kostroun
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On April 10, 2015, a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees lasted six hours and 49 minutes. The 19-inning game finished well after 2 am, with few spectators left in the stadium and a bunch of worn-out players who had to play the next day. The Red Sox won, but hardly anyone left the game happy.

According to Yahoo Sports, Major League Baseball is testing a rule to assure this never happens again.

Even regular, nine-inning baseball games can get long. Far too long if you ask many fans and players. The average game in 2016 took three hours and five minutes—enough time to watch the Lego Batman Movie twice. But save your pity for those who endured the 8% of games in 2016 that went into extra innings because of a tie in the ninth. These games can become almost interminable. This is what Major League Baseball wants to fix.

The following chart shows how many innings the 189 games that went into ”extras” lasted in 2016. On average, each additional inning takes a little over 20 minutes.

Major League Baseball would like to assure that fewer games go beyond 10 or 11 innings. The plan for making that happen would perhaps mark the biggest rule change to baseball in over a century.

Here’s how it would work: Starting in the 10th inning, instead of starting with no runners on base, teams would automatically get a player on second base. This would increase the likelihood of the hitting team scoring at least one run, and lower the chances of both teams scoring the same amount of runs.

According to our math, the rule change would mean that the chances of an inning ending in a tie (where the team at bat in the bottom half of the inning would score the same amount of runs as the team that batted in the top half of the inning) would go from around 40% to closer to 30%. That 10-percentage-point difference might not seem like a big deal, but it cuts in half the chances of a game lasting more than 12 innings, while the chances of a 13-inning game are cut to a third.

At first, according to Yahoo Sports’ story, the rule would only be applied to some of the minor leagues, the feeder system for young players not quite ready for the big time. Depending on how it works, Major League Baseball will consider implementing the new rule at the highest level.

For baseball fans (like this one), the prospect of a rule change raises mixed feelings. Going to a baseball game is an exercise in nostalgia—its unchanging nature is part of the allure. So the first time a runner saunters over to second base to start an inning, it’s going to be jarring. But knowing an afternoon at the ballpark doesn’t potentially mean committing an evening there, is a very nice prospect too.