Since Rob Manfred has taken over as MLB’s commissioner, he’s seemingly made pace-of-play initiatives his number one priority. There are many who have an issue with this, and I’d agree he’s probably taken it a bit too far at times, I think it’s fair to qualify it as an issue. I would argue that too many are looking purely at the time of games, which isn’t the issue in my mind. Instead, there’s too much downtime with pitchers taking a long time on the mound and the barrage of pitching changes that come at the end of each game. Regardless, I’ve been in favor of addressing this issue for the most part and am part of the (apparent) minority that would be fine with a pitch clock at the highest level. However, I’m certainly not in favor of every idea of Manfred’s and possibly his worst idea is coming to fruition, at least in the minors. Starting this season, all extra innings in minor-league games with begin with a runner on second. Friends, we have reached hell.
To be fair, I don’t think this particular move is really the end of the world. This is only happening in minor-league games and the game results really aren’t all that important in the lower levels. It’s true that organizations would like to build a winning culture from the bottom up, but ultimately this rule won’t really change that goal. The main point of the minors is to develop prospects into major-league talent, of course, and that means managing workloads, specifically for pitchers. Long extra inning games can mess with that plan by forcing some pitchers to throw more than they’re accustomed to and using some pitchers on what were supposed to be scheduled days off. Sure, that’s part of the game and I don’t think that was really an issue that needs fixing, but I don’t think those in the organization in charge of player development will cry over a rule that helps preserve arm. Additionally, many have expressed concern with how pitchers would be affected by allowing the new runner who appeared out of thin air to score. That run won’t go against his ERA as he’ll officially be put on second due to an error that will not be charged to anyone.
Okay, so it’s not all bad. But, ya know, it’s mostly bad. This is just an absurd way to solve an issue that isn’t really an issue. Like I said at the top, the literal length of games in terms of hours and minutes isn’t really the issue here like Manfred thinks it is. Long extra-inning games can be some of the most exciting in any given season, and finding a way to shorten them is bananas. Again, the focus should be on killing as much dead time as possible. The motivation behind all of these pace-of-play initiatives is seemingly to attract a younger and more diverse audience, and that is an admirable goal. I don’t see how this accomplishes that, though. All this will do is ensure that every extra inning begins with a sacrifice bunt in hopes that the next batter can maybe get a sacrifice fly to score the magical runner. Can you taste the excitement?!
The worst part of all of this, though, is that it is only becoming increasingly clear that this is coming to the majors. When this rule was instituted in the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and spring training, I naively believed it would stay in these formats. Now that it is carrying over to all levels of the minor leagues at once, I now realize how dumb I was. This is absolutely coming to the majors at some point in the next few years no matter how much Manfred may deny it. It’s so dumb. It’s really dumb. Did I mention it’s dumb? Honestly, if they are that concerned with extra-inning games just institute ties or something. That would also be dumb, but at least they wouldn’t be artificially creating runs and winners with asinine changes. I hate this so much.
In addition to The Bad Rule, the minor leagues will also see a couple more pace-of-play changes. For one thing, they’ll also be featuring the new mound visit limits, but the number of visits allowed will increase the further down the ladder you go. Rookie leagues will have unlimited visits. The pitch clock will also go down from 20 seconds to 15 seconds with the bases empty at Double-A and Triple-A instead of just being 20 seconds across the board.