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February 09, 2017

Charity runner in extra innings: How many games would this actually affect?

Perhaps Major League Baseball was tired of Tom Brady continuing to dominate sports headlines three days after the Super Bowl, and wanted people talking about their sport again. Or maybe it’s just a product of the deadest time of the baseball schedule, the week before spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona.

In any event, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that Major League Baseball “plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings.”

You know, like they do in high school softball.

And there’s more: the experiment is being planned to see whether it’s warranted to eventually bring the rule into the Major Leagues. You know, give a team a free base runner at the start of extra innings, changing the way that game has been played for, oh I don't know, more than 130 years.

Sure, laugh at the traditionalist. Get off my lawn and all of that, right? Nah. It’s just as silly as having the result of a hockey game determined by a shootout. It’s hokey.

And, guess what – it’s also unnecessary.

Why is that, you say? Baseball’s decision makers are trying to speed up the game: isn’t what this would do, get extra-inning games over quicker? Sure, giving each team a charity runner in extra innings would serve that purpose.

But, again, this isn’t necessary. Let's look at the exact number of games we’re talking about in a given season.

Major league games that extend an extra inning or four really aren’t that big of a deal in my mind. Most of the people defending this rule are talking about the especially long extra inning games, the ones that sap a team’s pitching staff (with the hangover extending in the next game or two) and the marathon games that sometimes require a position player to take the mound. (The latter which we can all agree is actually fun to watch, right?)

But how many games would this really affect in a year? How about 0.58 percent of the 2,430 games on baseball’s schedule.

During the 2016 season, only 14 of the 2,430 games played by major league teams required more than 13 innings. In 2015, it was the same: 14 of 2,430 games (0.58 percent).

In the last five seasons, 2013 had the most 13+ innings games: 33 of 2,430 (1.36 percent). But since there were 28 such games played in 2014, there has been exactly half as many 13+ inning games in the last two seasons.

Yeah, not enough for such a drastic (and hokey) rule change.

There are 2,430 games in a MLB season. How many of those games have gone more than 13 innings?

 SeasonNumber of 13+ inning games Percentage of games in a season 
2016 14 0.58 percent 
 201514 0.58 
 201428  1.15 
 201333  1.36
2012   21 .86

The Phillies, meanwhile, have played 810 games in the last five seasons. A grand total of six of those games went into the 14th inning. 

But how does the current five-year period compare, to say, how the game was being played 15-20 years ago? Let’s start with 1998, when Arizona and Tampa Bay arrived to give the league 30 teams.

There were 18 games that extended beyond 13 innings during the 1998 season. So, yeah, not a whole lot different than in the last five seasons.

 Season13+ inning games  Percent of games
 199818 .74 
1999 11  .45
2000  .37
2001  12 .49
2002  21 .86

Granted cherry-picking games that are longer than 13 innings is choosing an arbitrary number, but it just illustrates there aren't nearly as many marathon games and some might think.

Hey, it’s a fun story that got people talking baseball during the first full week of February. But, when you look at the actual number of games this affects in a given season, a drastic rule change like this just isn’t worth it in the name of speeding up the game.

There are plenty of other more sensical solutions.

In any event, the rule apparently is coming to the Gulf Coast League this summer. And it has a surprising supporter in Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame manager who has spent the least seven years working as MLB’s chief baseball officer.

Here is what Torre said in the Yahoo Sports report:

“Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.

“It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”

It's probably also worth remembering that Major League Baseball, at the end of the day, is a business. So let's leave you with the opinion of Michael Mulvihill, the senior vice president of programming and research for Fox Sports.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21