Rays CF Kevin Kiermaier lays down a bunt. Photo: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Extra innings in 2020 will begin with a man on second base — a temporary rule adopted by MLB to speed up games in this sprint of a season.
Why it matters: Some people hate the rule, but at the end of the day it leads to quicker games and more nuanced strategy.
- "It forces me to manage," a minor league manager who's played under these rules since 2018 told The Athletic.
The state of play: So far, the rule has worked, with six of the eight (75%) extra inning games ending in the 10th. From 2012 to 2017, that number was just 43.7%.
- Home teams have won just twice, though in an oddity fit only for 2020, the Nationals' Wednesday night victory in D.C. doesn't factor in that tally, as they were "hosted" by the Toronto Blue Jays of Buffalo.
The big picture: The rule's existence is one thing, but the strategies employed within are something else entirely. Most notably, should teams bunt the runner to third or swing away and try for a big inning?
- Argument for bunting: From 2015 to 2019, with a runner on second and nobody out, at least one run scored 61% of the time, per WSJ's Jared Diamond (subscription). With a man on third and one out, that probability climbed to 65%. Translation: get the runner to third however you can.
- Argument against: Bunting is more difficult than it looks, and "relatively few players even practice [it] anymore." Plus, why give up an out when, with the right batter at the plate, you've got a 30% chance of knocking him in with a base hit? Billy Beane would never.
- Of note: Just one team (the Royals) has used the sacrifice bunt in this situation so far, with a speedster on second and an inexperienced batter at the plate — a prime situation to dust off the old-school tactic.
The bottom line: The new extra innings rule may or may not exist after 2020, but the data collected from it will almost certainly inform future strategy. In a 60-game lab experiment of a season, that's about all you can ask for.