MLB should expand to 174-game season with this plan: ShermanSeptember 5, 2020
MLB and the Players Association agreed to rules changes designed to enhance safety this year, such as seven-inning doubleheaders, the universal DH and starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
That also transformed this strange season into a lab, allowing the involved parties to see in action ideas they had been mulling. No one should be surprised to see all three of the above rules become permanent.
The seven-inning doubleheader, for example, appears here to stay. I have been surprised how much I appreciate the urgency and strategy the seven-inning contests compel earlier into games, plus that most are wrapped in under three hours. I have liked it so much, close your eyes traditionalists, I recommend MLB go further:
Expand to a 174-game season: 146 eight-inning games and 14 doubleheaders (28 total games) with seven-inning games.
Why Do This?
Nine innings are just a construct. We fixate on fives and tens (owing to having five fingers on each hand and 10 in total). Therefore, the surprise is that the initial rules were not 10 innings. Short version: In the 19th Century when the rules were codified, an inning was set to match the number of fielders. If there had been a short center fielder, we would have 10 innings. That would be what you were used to seeing, and if I suggested shortening it to nine innings, you might think it heresy.
An eight-inning game, using the average for a nine-inning game this year, would last 2:47 — and I do think to provide better entertainment, MLB games need to begin coming in at under three hours.
MLB has tried to prune here and there, and nine-inning games this year are still averaging a record 3:08. As long as the union is composed of half pitchers and half hitters with competing agendas, neither is going to budge enough to really shorten games for the good of the sport over themselves. I now think the only way to truly shorten games is to, well, shorten the games to seven and eight innings. A pitch clock isn’t going to do it. Imploring pitchers to pitch and hitters to stay in the box isn’t happening.
This proposal requires no extra days on a baseball calendar, which is now 162 games in 187 days. Two off-days are actually gained because the 174 games are played in 160 days (146 single games, 14 doubleheaders).
Also, most doubleheaders should be contested between regional opponents to allow easier travel should make-ups be required. Start a few days earlier in late March and create a calendar in which 160 dates were needed to play games over, say, 190 days. That exchanges extra off-days (which players generally like) for doubleheaders (which they generally don’t). Or keep it to 160 dates in 188 days with an earlier start to create more wiggle room to have an extra layer of playoffs permanently and still not schedule into November.
What about the records?
Over the past five seasons teams have averaged playing 1,448 innings. This proposal would be for 1,364 innings (1,168 in eight-inning games and 196 in doubleheaders). Lost is the rough equivalent of nine games worth of innings. But, just as an example, the average number of games tied after eight innings over the past five years is 232. You are going to gain innings as the season progresses.
Starters would still go every fifth day, so they would get the same number of starts, and it is not as if we see many nine-inning complete games anymore anyway. Batters would still approximate their at-bat totals, though doubleheaders would accentuate having depth in all areas.
Why is this good for teams?
— More inventory to sell to regional sports networks and fans.
— Teams would decide whether to have traditional or split doubleheaders But MLB should mandate that a minimum of five of the doubleheaders are split and that the matinee is half price for families and/or children 15 and under. Get them into the park when the quicker game taxes short attention spans less. Teams would still be getting two gates (and extra games) plus concessions, etc. Maybe they would be making future fans.
Why is this good for players?
— Starting pitching does not diminish in value. An elite starter who can cover a greater percentage of innings in either a seven- or eight-inning game allows a bullpen to be used for all the other games.
— No job loss. Essentially the same number of innings need to be covered, plus regular doubleheaders means volume will be needed to cover innings, including sixth starters or extra relievers for bullpen games.
— Not only will the best hitters bat almost as frequently, but doubleheaders will build up the at-bats of secondary players.
What else should be done?
— Combine the old and new for extra innings. All games would have one traditional extra inning before going to the runner on second. So, an eight-inning game would have a ninth inning (remember those?), and if it were still tied, a runner would be put on second in the 10th inning. The seven-inning game would have an eighth standard inning.
— Option rules would have to be loosened, so that if arms need protection a team can get a fresh one to the active roster as easily as possible.
Why do this?
It assures shorter game times with more urgency from the outset while not removing the essence of the sport or threatening the record book.
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