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The WBC and the 11th Inning Rule

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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.

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