Odds of a Win With New Rule Change

A common theme throughout MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's tenure has been his ongoing effort to speed up the pace of the play. In 2015, the MLB was able to execute the installation and enforcement of timers in an attempt to cut off excess time. Before the 2017 season, the MLB changed the traditional 4-pitch intentional walk to a signal. If these seemingly menial rule changes left baseball purists infuriated, one can only imagine the public reaction to a rule change that would actually impact the strategy of an MLB game.

This past offseason, MLB officials began discussing another rule change to cut down on time: beginning each extra inning with a runner on second base. Not only would this idea presumably shorten games, but it would also lessen the inning workload on bullpens. MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre cited long extra-inning games, which leave bullpens fatigued, as the main benefit of this proposed rule change. The "man on second" rule change began to gain more traction as the MLB implemented the rule at a lower level in short-season minor league baseball earlier this year.

The Rule Change

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While contemplating this rule change, the team at Casino.org wondered in what ways this change could affect baseball. Using play-by-play data, we decided to see how the past three years of playoff baseball could have been affected if we retroactively applied the "man on second" rule. We did so by placing a runner on second at the start of each extra inning in each playoff game that advanced past the regular nine innings.

Which Games Changed?

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We included all games from the past three playoffs in our study, which gave us 103 games to work with. Out of these 103 games, 90 of them remain unchanged because they did not go into extra innings. The next step was to analyze the 13 extra-inning games with a potential to be affected by this rule change.

Last season’s historic game seven in the World Series, which ended the Cubs’ 108-year championship drought, was one of these affected games. This game would not have had any innings shaved off or a change in the winner, but it would have been a higher scoring affair.

Many of the games ended up shortened, but with the same winner as the original score. This category includes Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS, Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, Game 2 of the 2015 ALDS, and the 2014 AL Wild Card game.

Only one game outcome was changed because of this rule: Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS between the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals. In real life, the Giants were carried to victory by a Brandon Belt home run in the top of the 18th inning. However, if each inning began with a runner on second, Ryan Zimmerman’s line-drive single to left field would have knocked in the man on second and ended the game in the bottom of the 10th. The rule change would have cut eight innings off this game.

This Giants vs. Nationals series has even more significance when we consider the implications of the alternate outcome. If the Nationals ended the game in 10 innings with a victory, they would have tied the series at 1-1. The Nationals went on to win Game 3 and lose Game 4. With the "man on second" rule, the Nationals would have forced a series-deciding Game 5 in their home stadium. After the Giants advanced past the Nationals, Madison Bumgarner’s stellar performances fueled a historic run and helped the Giants claim the 2014 World Series.

Hit the Showers

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If managers are hoping to save pitchers’ arms and lighten team fatigue with this rule change, there is no better supporting evidence than the previously discussed Giants vs. Nationals game. By our estimations, the "man on second" rule change would have cut down the 2014 NLDS extravaganza by nearly three hours.

Additionally, we estimated that Game 2 of the Rangers vs. Blue Jays 2015 ALDS series would have been over an hour shorter despite the same outcome. While a couple of the games had drastic time differences, seven of the 13 games analyzed would not have been shortened at all.

The Proposed Rule Change Would Likely Draw Backlash

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After measuring fan sentiment, it is clear that baseball fans would hate the proposed rule change. On a scale of one to seven, with one indicating fans love the potential rule change, fans rated this rule a 6.3.

This brings into question how accurate the fans’ understanding of the significance of this rule change is. Is such strongly negative feedback warranted? In our study, only 1 in 103 games had a change in outcome. The new rule did shorten multiple games by significant amounts without changing the winner. If the MLB’s goal is to shorten games and lessen pitchers’ workloads, this may be a solution that does so without significantly impacting which teams win. It’s important to keep in mind that the fan reaction likely relates to the change in strategy as well. If the Nationals were able to slap a speedster like Trea Turner on second base, he might have been able to steal a base or put additional pressure on the defense. Regardless of their reasoning, fans seem to be content with the MLB’s current extra inning rules.

The Odds May Remain in Your Favor

If the MLB eventually goes through with this rule change, the odds of your team winning may not change as much as you expect. Although there isn’t any way to simulate the effect of this rule change on game strategy, the odds of fan backlash will surely remain high.

Methodology

To analyze the past three years of playoff play-by-play data, we assumed the following:

  • Any base hit would advance a runner from second to home.
  • A flyout with less than two outs would advance a runner on third base to home.
  • If an error allowed the batter to advance to second base, the man on second would also advance two bases.
  • If a runner stole second base with the newly placed runner on second, a double steal would take place.

The fan sentiment regarding the rule change was based on a survey of over 200 MLB fans.

Sources

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