The WBC and the 11th Inning Rule

March 21, 2017

We still have a few weeks until the MLB season starts, but it almost feels like we are in the middle of a pennant chase thanks to the drama being provided by the World Baseball Classic. There has been a lot of energy in the stadiums, and the games have had quite the combination of offensive explosions and late-inning drama. Seven out of the 38 games through Monday went into extra innings, which is more than double the rate of extra-inning games from the 2016 MLB season.

Part of the reason for the added excitement coming from the WBC is the rule that, starting in the 11th inning, every half-inning starts with runners on first and second base. This is a modified form of the rule that was discussed in the offseason as a possibility for the low minor leagues, one that would have stipulated that after the 10th inning every half-inning would start with a runner on second base. The intent in the context of the WBC is a little bit different from that of the proposed MLB rule because there is added concern about injury risk with limited roster options, but overall there is clearly a desire to cut down on the length of games when possible. An additional benefit comes out of it as well, in that extra-innings contests become even more compelling to watch as the intensity ratchets up with runners on base.

How much of a difference do those two baserunners make? Well, for starters, the three games so far that have gone to the 11th have not made it to the 12th very much because of this rule. As a more concrete examination, below is a table giving the odds of scoring at least one run and the run expectancy for the none on / no out and first and second / no out situations in 2016.

Run Scoring by Game State, 2016 MLB Season
  Odds of Scoring Run Expectancy
None On / No Outs 0.27 0.50
1st & 2nd / No Outs 0.60 1.43


Obviously, more runners on base leads to more run scoring. The odds of a team scoring are more than doubled with runners on first and second, and the run expectancy almost triples. We have seen this kind of increase in the small sample of 11th innings in the WBC, as there have been 1.67 runs scored per half inning compared to 0.60 in the earlier innings, which is already higher than the MLB average. We have seen similar extra-time rules, like the new NHL overtime rules that brought about 3-on-3 hockey, increase both scoring and the thrill of late-game action. This kind of rule in baseball seems like a great opportunity to see the same uptick in excitement and intensity while also alleviating some of the recent concerns about the length of games.


COMMENTS (15 Comments, most recent shown first)

7:29 AM Mar 31st
Yes -- extraordinary. Or at least remarkable.

I wonder if it's a reflection of our 'demographics.'

Anyone know if there have been surveys among, uh, "more varied" groups, especially younger fans?

But yeah -- very striking that nobody at all among us thinks the change would be good. A couple of people on that thread said it's worth thinking about, and criticized us who basically just said it's totally nuts, but even they aren't for the new idea.
12:58 PM Mar 27th
As this exits to the archives, I would just point to the poll we have in Readers Posts currently 27-0 against any rule changes designed to shorten extra inning play.
8:36 PM Mar 26th
I', with dstrauss on this. It's not that extra inning games are too long. The tension of those often makes it easy to lose track of time. What real baseball fan doesn't look fondly back on the annual 18-inning affair and how we dragged ourselves into work the next morning because we were invested in the game?

The problem with length of game is solely due to how much time is spend not playing baseball in the first innings. Remove that dead time and the problem is solved, and much of that can be removed by enforcing rules already on the books.
12:27 PM Mar 23rd
I don't see any strategic excitement - both teams tried the sac bunt. Every team will try to sac bunt. It's boring.
9:58 PM Mar 22nd
Depending on the dugout configuration and equipment like coolers, we could settle this with quick games of "the floor is lava."
4:26 PM Mar 22nd
I have no problem with using this rule for limited tournaments like this. Teams have fewer options for pitchers, most of the hurlers are under very specific pitch counts and restrictions, and this isn't the place for an 18 inning marathon.

For real games that count? No freaking way.

The last few days have upped my interest in the WBC from a 2 on a 1-10 scale to about a 4. They've been fun to watch, but I have not in any way mistaken it for something that matters. And as a Yankee fan, Didi missing a month due to this silly thing is pissing me off.
1:15 PM Mar 22nd
The sabermetric community has said the sacrifice bunt was overused. It's a play that increases the chance of scoring one run, at the risk of missing an opportunity to score several runs. I think sabermetric analysis has proven that in most situations, it is better to play for multiple runs.
However, there are situations in which it is better to play for one run - so the sac bunt has a place in the strategic arsenal. It's not the bunt itself that sabermetrics railed against, it is (was?) its overuse.

I think Dewan is suggesting here that the novelty of the WBC extra inning rule adds some strategic excitement, and he wants to open the door to some discussion and analysis of different strategic approaches to it.

But yes, leave this stuff to the WBC. MLB doesn't need it. Extra innings are not the problem...
7:20 AM Mar 22nd
If God had wanted runners on base to start the 11th inning that would have been in the rules he handed down from on high in 1846. Along with foul strikes, the pitcher's mound, substitutions without the opposition's consent, and overhand pitching. All abominations!
7:02 AM Mar 22nd
The saber-metric community has railed against the sacrifice bunt for nigh on to 40 years now, and has never come to grips with the statistical inaccuracy of the sacrifice fly.

How anyone on this site can now champion the use of either one and refer to them as 'exciting' confuses and confounds me.

If this is the way things are going, I want to push for the revival of batting average and my personal favorite: fielding average.

6:29 AM Mar 22nd
Agreed! Especially your conclusion. It's a fresh strategy situation and I enjoy it.

For example, the first decision is whether you try to cash it in for one run as the visiting team, with the bunt intentional walk and sac fly. There could games in which you have to shoot for two runs.

You think the home team would have a significant advantage in this format? It gets to see the other poker player's hand first.
3:31 AM Mar 22nd
Hating it.

I love long extra inning games. I think the only people complaining about them are the people for whom it means a longer workday....coaches, players, down to announcers and reporters.

I think it is fine for minor league games....they have just become exhibitions anyway, and those poor kids have long bus trips.

11:48 PM Mar 21st
I'm with 77royals.
9:51 PM Mar 21st
Having been unable to watch (because I won't pop for the MLB package), and because I live in a city in which the coverage of the WBC has been non-existent, and because by the time I think about checking the results on ESPN's website the day's almost over...I have had no opportunity to get excited or offended by the "let's put runners on base, jus because! ploy.
7:16 PM Mar 21st
Well, that's exactly one person who is excited about the idiocy of the extra-inning rule.
6:29 PM Mar 21st
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