Major League Baseball is returning in July, and the abbreviated season is bringing with it some significant rule changes. The designated hitter rule is coming over to the National League, and while it is only for 2020, most think we could see it introduced permanently
A more intriguing rule change is something the minors have been experimenting with for a couple years now. MLB wants to cut down on extra inning games so as to limit the amount of time players are in a potentially exposed environment. To do so, they are introducing the minor league rule of beginning each half inning after the ninth inning with a runner on second base. Jayson Stark noted this will not apply in the playoffs.
Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich broke it down as follows:
Each half-inning following the ninth inning will begin with a runner on second base. The runner will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter. But if that player is to be the pitcher, the manager can opt for the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order instead.
For the purpose of calculating earned runs, the runner who begins the inning on second will be deemed to reached that spot because of a fielding error. No error, however, shall be charged to the opposing team or to any player. The pitcher would not be charged with an earned run.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper ran the numbers as to how this impacted minor league games in extra innings the past two years as compared to the prior two years. In 2016 and 2017, 45 percent of extra inning games were resolved with just one extra inning. In 2018 and 2019 with the new rule, 73 percent of extra inning games were resolved with just one extra inning.
Where this gets particularly interesting is in strategy. If a team has the heart of their order coming up, they might treat it as normal. However, if they have a lighter hit coming up, this would seemingly boost the odds of seeing a bunt to open the inning. It will be interesting to see which conservative teams opt for the bunt even with a quality hitter coming to plate. Strategy is going to be fascinating to watch unfold in this unique environment.