How to Fix Baseball’s Extra Innings Problem (No, Really)

According to an impeccable thread on a reliable site, around nine percent of MLB games over the past twenty years have resulted in extra innings, only about five percent of these games have gone beyond ten innings.

Yet here we are, on the brink of another offseason where MLB will do its best NFL impression, trying to find a rule to change a game most of its customers have no problem with. For the NFL, its making a violent game less violent, but still giving enough outlets for its players to do dances. For baseball, its adding a clock to a game born to avoid one.

“We need to reduce the length of games” one owner will say, while some geek from Princeton who still hasn’t seen Moneyball but knows a lot about money sits next to him writing down algorithms or probably something.

“We need to reduce the length of extra innings!” will say another owner, the incredulous reaction to just now hearing some of his consumers refer to the phenomena as “free baseball.”

“We must stop giving away our game for free,” the crowd grumbles like tired dogs on a rainy day.

In an effort to encourage run scoring and get the damn game over with already, many of us know MLB has already started testing placing runners at 1st and 2nd base after the eleventh inning in the minor leagues. An act tantamount to a girl you just met at a bar deciding to give you her number after you just don’t seem to be getting the clue, then telling you where she parked … and that her best friend just left her … again … for her ex-boyfriend Kyle who was a stud lacrosse player in college but always treats her like garbage.

Anyway, it’s a bullshit move that if implemented in The Show would present a radical change in the game that could portend even more extreme offerings:

A second DH? A fourth out? Allowing the Freeze to come in and pinch run for a team dumb enough to carry three catchers?

The same thread I linked at the beginning of this article notes only two percent of MLB games traditionally even see an 11th inning, which as a baseball fan I can say at least feels right. But Baseball’s plan to make sure games don’t go into a 12th is to invent baserunners. A novel concept that drive by fans looking forward to the next bark in the park night would say, ‘okay whatever,’ but diehard fans say alters the legitimacy of the one hundred-and-fifty-year-old sport.

Let’s for the sake of argument assume baseball’s extra innings problem is indeed a problem in that it unnecessarily lengthens baseball games. Let’s also assume that the integrity of the game is important, and I’m defining integrity as creating a set of circumstances where a team wins or loses based on whether they are the best team that day. Throwing runners onto the base-paths hurts the integrity of the game in that it creates a variable that for the first nine innings didn’t exist, but also, this variable gives the offense an unfair advantage over the defense, one that is not reflective of either team’s ability. Some will say this is exactly what soccer does with creating a shootout period, which would be correct. But soccer sucks, so that argument is irrelevant.

Baseball is not about giving away advantages. It’s about finding a weakness in another team and exploiting it.

I posit a solution that heightens the likelihood of scoring, yes by introducing a new variable, but one that makes the game harder. And arguably much more entertaining.

Baseball is a game where a runner proceeds from first to second, second to third, rounding the bases counter clock-wise in order to score. My solution is to reverse this; make the runner go clockwise around the bases, beginning at what is traditionally third base out of the box. This would require the third baseman to ostensibly become the “first baseman” and the second baseman to play short. It would dramatically alter “the shift” which has reduced scoring, not to mention the sheer mental block and new angles players would need to play with to overcome their programmed positions on the field and where to run.

This variable puts the pressure mainly on the defense, yes, but that advantage varies based on the strategy the team uses to offset this rule change. It’s not simply throwing two players on the bases and telling them to deal with it. It’s a fun, spontaneous change in the game that I bet you a nickel would cause fans to stick around just to see what the hell happens.

A ground ball to the first baseman, a position where a player doesn’t always have the best throwing arm, would all of a sudden become an adventure. Or maybe a team strategically moves their third baseman over to the right side of the field to make up for this, but this player, accustomed to the hot corner, must now play the ball off a left hander’s bat in a way they’ve never done before. The pitcher would also have to remember to cover third, opposed to first, and he already has enough things to worry about.

The team that can adapt the quickest, with the most athletic infield or headiest baserunners, would most likely to win, keeping the integrity of the game in tact.

How many buttons would the geeks from Wharton push on their calculators losing their mind over the new formulas that would have to be created to offset such a reversal? How many veins would pop in Manager Gabe Kapler’s head over the opportunity to see so many different position players changing glove types?

You could even throw some mascot out there to signal the change in direction,—call him Switcharoo—to run around the bases and shoot some t-shirts out of canons to whoever happens to be left in the ballpark .

Sure it seems to counter a radical proposition with an even more radical one. But this solution keeps the game legitimate by forcing a team to play with strategy, in turn shortening the game by putting more pressure on the defense. This pressure, unlike throwing runners on the bases, varies depending on the overall talent level and the ability of a team to adapt. If the point is more scoring, and not indirectly giving, than why not switch things up?

Why not look at a solution that reverses opposed to adding?

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