San Francisco Chronicle
Automatic runner for extra innings made permanent
Starting extra innings with a runner on second base during the regular season was made a permanent rules change by Major League Baseball on Monday after three seasons of use during the coronavirus pandemic.
Known by some as the “ghost runner” and by others as the “manfred man” after Commissioner Rob Manfred, the rule was unanimously adopted by the sport’s 11-person competition committee.
Use of position players as pitchers also was tightened by the committee. They will be limited to extra innings, when a player’s team is losing by eight or more runs or is winning by 10 or more runs in the ninth inning. Last year, a position player could pitch only in extra innings or if his team was losing or winning by six or more runs.
The joint competition committee, established in the lockout settlement in March, includes six management officials, four union representatives and one umpire.
There were 216 extra-inning games last year, down from 233 in 2021 and 78 during the shortened 2020 season. The longest last year was Cleveland’s 7-6, 15inning win over Minnesota in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 17. That was one inning shy of the longest in the three seasons of the rule, the Dodgers’ 16-inning win at San Diego on Aug. 25, 2021.
Home teams went 113-103 in extra-inning games last year and are 262-263 in extra innings since the runner-on-second rule started in 2020, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Home teams were 312-294 in extra-inning games from 2017 through ’19, Elias said.
The rule was adopted as a pandemic measure for the 2020 season.
“Clubs have gotten used to the extra-innings rule,” Manfred said Thursday after an owners’ meeting. “I think it’s generally well-liked by players.”
Use of position players as pitchers rose from 90 on 2019 to 89 in 2021 and 132 last year, according to the commissioner’s office. Use when trailing by six or seven runs increased from eight in 2019 to 16 in 2021 to 28 last year.
Use when leading by six or more runs rose from 1 in 2019 and none in 2021 to 18 last season.
Opening Day on March 30 will feature three of the biggest changes since the pitcher’s mound was lowered for the 1969 season:
• Two infielders will be required on either side of second base and all infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
• Base size will increase to 18inch squares from 15 inches, causing a decreased distance on the basepaths of 4½ inches.
• A pitch clock will be used, set at 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners.
“This has been an eight-year effort for us,” Manfred said Thursday, thinking back to when the first experiments were formulated. “I hope we get what our fans want: faster, more action, more athleticism.”
Baseball’s timelessness spanned a century and a half. Turns out, all those dead minutes became an annoyance in an age of decreased attention spans and increased entertainment competition.
The average time of a nine-inning game stretched from 2 hours, 30 minutes in the mid-1950s to 2:46 in 1989 and 3:10 in 2021 before dropping to 3:04 last year following the introduction of the PitchCom electronic device to signal pitches.
“Pitch clock, I’m thrilled about,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “Speed the game up. They get too long. If we’re playing the Red Sox or playing the Yankees, they turn into four-hour ballgames.”
Use of a slightly stricter clock in the minors (14/19 at Triple-A and 14/18 at lower levels) cut the average game time from 3:03 in 2021 to 2:38 last year.
“My guess is in April you’re going to probably see some incidents. It’s inevitable,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Hitters are going to step out or somebody’s going to get a ball.”
With the rise in shifts and higher velocity pitches, the batting average dropped from .269 in 2006 to .243 last year, its lowest since the record of .239 in 1968. Batting average for lefthanded hitters was .236 last year, down from .254 in 2016, when lefties were one point below the big-league average.
Defensive shifts on balls in play totaled 70,853 last season, according to revised totals from Sports Info Solutions. That’s up from 59,063 in 2021 and 2,349 in 2011.
“I think for left-handed hitters, we’re trying to put the game back where it was historically,” Manfred.
The Mets’ Jeff McNeil, a lefty batter, is the big-league batting champion (.326) and likely to benefit from infielders repositioned back to where they were before the Analytics Era.
“When they do shift me, I just hit against the shift. And when they don’t shift me, I just hit,” he said. “When they do give me a giant hole somewhere, then I’m going to pad to get the ball through there and try to get my single.”