On Monday I was a guest on the Going Deep With Matthew And Jeremy podcast. During our conversation we touched on the topic of the runner on second base to start extra innings. We discussed the tactics the various managers have been employing since the rule was first implemented last season. I will admit I am a proponent of the rule. In July 2019, I was at a
A game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels where I witnessed a bit of baseball history where outfielder Stevie Wilkerson recorded the first ever save by a position player, locking it down with his high octane 55 MPH fastballs; too bad I had to wait until the 16th inning in order to see it. Leaving the ballpark after 1:30 a.m. is not what I had in mind at first pitch. It really gets to a point where one doesn’t care who wins; everyone just wants the game over with.
While I can appreciate the traditionalists who want the games played out to their natural conclusion, I am of the opinion the extra inning rule is beneficial because it does what it is designed to do, which is end the game more quickly. This is better for the players in the sense they are not getting burned out playing well into the night. In addition, it helps limit the roster moves that would also be associated with the games that go into extras. The players affected by the roster moves are almost always guys who are trying to scrape as much service time together as they can. For a fan, an inning which starts with a running in scoring position means there is immediate drama, which in the long run benefits the sport. Soccer has lived with penalty shootouts for years, and the game wasn’t damaged by them.
One thing which is apparent with the extra innings rule is major league managers are still trying to work out the most effective way to handle the situation. Anecdotally, I have noticed the visiting teams playing for multiple runs, whereas the home teams only play for one when the game is tied. I did a little bit of digging for the data which shows what percentage of the time team would score at least one run from the assorted game states. The chart is courtesy of Tom Tango, one of the founding fathers of sabermetrics. Any major league manager should have a decent grasp of the chart. For example, since 2019 the batting team should expect to score a run 61.1% of the time when there is a runner and no outs. Where things get interesting when looking at the data is what drives the decision whether to bunt the runner to third, or go about things in a different way. A runner on third with one out, all the way to having the bases loaded with one out only increases the odds of scoring the run by 8.6% at the most. While the bunting the runner to third may soothe the psyche of the old school baseball fan, it really is not the boon to the offense it appears to be.
The big thing I am seeing from the numbers is the most important batter in extra innings is the leadoff guy. If the runner can advance to third base without him making an out, then the team batting sees their chances increase by a minimum of 21.1%. Having over an 80% chance to score for me is where the magic is. On the converse, having two outs is problematic for scoring opportunities. The runner on second with one out is 41.7% likely to score, but that drops off to 22.6% when there are two away. The drop is more precipitous when the runner is on third base (66.2% down to 26.3%).
One thing looking into the extra inning rule has shown me is there is no right or wrong way to go about managing it. Managers have to know their players and their tendencies. Strikeout prone batters are less than ideal in extra innings, while pitchers who can strikeout guys are a bonus. Both add outs to the ledger, but don’t move the runners along. Given the league is batting a combined .232, with a 24.5% strikeout rate, tough decisions have to be made. The extra inning rule means actual baseball strategy is still being employed after the ninth inning, unlike before, where extra inning affairs tended to devolve into a glorified version of home run derby.