MLB's greatest achievement in recent years seems to be creating confusing, low-impact rules in an attempt to solve simple, high-impact problems.
The dumbest of those rules — starting a runner on second base at the beginning of each frame of extra innings — has already impacted the Twins' season. They are undefeated in regulation games but 3-2 overall after their second defeat Tuesday in extra innings.
This one came against the Tigers. The first game on opening day at Milwaukee. In both games, the Twins failed to score given the opportunity in the top half of the 10th and watched their opponent sail home with the winning run in the bottom half.
I talked — maybe ranted is a better word? — about this on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Let's be clear: I'm not mad about the rule just because the team I pay the most attention to lost two early-season games. What I dislike about it the most is that it's a cheap way to try to solve problems — pace of play, length of games, bullpen overuse — that doesn't really solve the problem. And it comes instead of a much better solution.
As a short-term measure implemented in the shortened 60-game season last year, I didn't hate the extra-inning rule. Teams were stretched thin already with COVID wreaking havoc on rosters, and the condensed schedule meant very few off days. The whole year was weird. Having one more weird thing didn't seem too off-putting.
But now, as things slowly return to normal — with fans returning to the stands and teams getting mass vaccinations — keeping the rule for the 162-game season in 2021 serves more as a reminder of MLB's false hustle. Unable to create more meaningful changes to improve the quality and pace of the game, baseball has had to resort instead to gimmicks like seven-inning doubleheaders, this extra innings rule and batter minimums for relievers.
What's silly is that there's a simple solution that would improve things immediately: a pitch clock. A 20-second pitch clock was introduced in several minor leagues in 2015, immediately cutting several minutes off of game times and keeping games moving along.
The average MLB game had 301 pitches in 2019. The average time between pitches has crept above 23 seconds. If you trim three seconds off of even 200 pitches, you've saved 10 minutes and perhaps more importantly impacted game flow.
MLB tried to add a pitch clock in 2018 (and experimented with one in spring training in 2019), but the players didn't want it. Maybe you can say that isn't Commissioner Rob Manfred's fault, but I imagine the acrimony between players and owners — earned over the span of decades and accelerated by the current commissioner — certainly payed a role in rejecting the pitch clock.
So instead we're left with interminable games ... until they get really dramatic and tense in extra innings, when MLB would like them to end as soon as possible. It's a solution for a problem that doesn't really exist: Per FanGraphs, 98% of all games in 2019, the last season before the extra inning rule, ended by the 11th inning and only 8.6% went extra innings at all.
Speeding up a small fraction of games and doing nothing about the vast majority of others? Yep, that sounds like something MLB would do.
People have similar complaints about the NHL and its overtime rule — 5 minutes of 3 on 3 hockey followed by a shootout to determine the winner — but at least the NHL awards a point to the team that loses in these glorified skills contests.
And in the NHL, you might have as many as 25% of games in a given season reach overtime — about three times as many as went extra innings in MLB in 2019.
Maybe MLB should start giving teams a "loser point" in the standings, too? If we're going full absurdity, let me have this at least. I'll say the Twins are now 3-0-2, with three regulation wins and two extra inning losses. Each extra inning loss counts as a half-win.
Or maybe just do a pitch clock and eliminate the wackiness?