Baseball offenses in the low levels of the minor leagues will reportedly start extra innings with a runner in scoring position before anyone even steps in the batter's box.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday that Major League Baseball will test a rule change in the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League in 2017 that will place a runner on second base to start extra innings. Passan noted something akin to this rule has been a feature in international baseball and will be used in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Testing the rule in those leagues "is part of an effort to understand its wide in-game consequences—and whether its implementation at higher levels, and even the major leagues, may be warranted," Passan wrote.
MLB's Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre commented on the rule, per Passan: "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."
Pace of play has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently stressed, per Liz Roscher of Yahoo Sports.
"Our goal is to make sure that our product is as tight and compelling as possible," Manfred said. "So what we're focused on is eliminating points of delay in the game, where there's no action, it doesn't affect the outcome of the game. Where we can just move the game along a little quicker."
This comes after Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight noted in July 2016 that the average MLB game was an even three hours and near its 2014 high.
Placing a runner on second base to start extra innings isn't the only potential new rule designed in part to increase the action and pace of play.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, MLB proposed rules that would raise the bottom of the strike zone to the top of the knees and do away with actually throwing the pitches in an intentional walk. Instead, a team would simply send the batter to first without throwing the four pitches for any intentional pass.
In terms of the extra-inning rule, Passan listed other possible advantages if it was implemented:
|Possible Advantages to New Rule|
|Increase Action||Forced runner leads to more action, even when balls aren't put in play.|
|Philosophical Element||Managers would have to decide whether to bunt the runner over.|
|Fatigue Effect||Extra-inning games increase stress and fatigue during the course of a long season that features plenty of traveling. They also stress the bullpen.|
|Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports|
Passan did point out the rule would probably take multiple years to reach the MLB level, even if it's a success in the lower minor leagues.