Simulations Show Man-on-Second Rule Has Little Impact on Game Outcome, but It’s Still an Awful Idea

Raise your hand if you hate the rule MLB is piloting in the minors that will see each extra inning open with a runner on second base. Now raise your hand if you like the idea. Wow, 2-0 in favor of keeping things the same. I’m with both of you, at least for the most part. While I don’t hate it, per se, I think the idea is kind of dumb. I’m not a fan of pitch clocks and limiting mound visits, either, but at least those don’t fundamentally alter the way the game is played.

Starting with a runner in scoring position, though, that could really have an impact when we’re talking about a tie game in which there’s very little margin for error. But would it really? That’s exactly what the folks at sought to answer by simulating the results of extra-inning playoff games using the man-on-second rule.

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.

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.

As you may already be thinking, the greatest baseball game in the history of forever was among the 13 in the study (blah, blah, small sample size warning). Sorry, Indians fans, the result remained the same and your team still blew a 3-1 lead.

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.

As you can see above, only one of the games they simulated would have ended differently. Anyone want to take a guess at which one it was? Here, I’ll give you a clue: The rule change would have lopped nearly 165 minutes — not a typo — from the length of the 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.

But wait, there’s more…

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

So that’s pretty wild, right? That game served to preserve both the Giants’ Even-Year Bull—- (which the Cubs subsequently vanquished) and the Nationals’ inability to win a playoff series (which the Cubs subsequently extended). It was also an incredible marathon of a contest that wouldn’t have been anything of the sort had this wacky rule been in effect.

In fact, the hypothetical time saved in Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS alone is greater than in the next three games on the list below combined. And if the study is correct, only six of 13 extra-inning playoff games would have been shortened at all.

Because that one game is such an aberration, let’s throw it when looking at an average time saved by the MoS rule. We’ll even toss one of the zeroes from the mix, which leaves us with an average of 18.7 minutes saved per 11 extra-inning games. That’s actually significant in terms of overall game time, though playoff games aren’t really the ideal test environment for such measures.

What I mean is that people are going to be more engaged and thus more likely to stick around for a postseason affair that carries so much more weight. Shaving nearly 19 minutes from regular-season contests, however, now you might be on to something. So if it doesn’t really impact the outcome but does shorten and/or add excitement to games, isn’t that worth considering?

Well, maybe. The real key to the whole thing, at least as far as MLB is concerned, is whether this change would bring in more fans than it’d alienate. Given that most American fans have never seen such a rule outside of beer-league softball, it’s understandable that their view of it would skew very heavily toward the negative.

Hater in the house, amirite?

Now, as you can see from the note at the bottom of this graphic, the results above came from a sample of only 200 fans. However, I feel pretty confident based on my own highly unscientific observations that further extrapolation would yield similar results. I also feel pretty confident saying that people are often more critical of things they don’t understand and haven’t experienced.

Then again, this is one of those things that doesn’t really need to be experienced in order to be properly judged. Putting a runner on second to start an inning is an unconscionably awful idea in my humble opinion, and the fact that MLB is even toying with it at all rankles me. That said, I’d still follow the game just as closely as before.

What’s more, I highly doubt too many other people would really stop watching baseball simply because a new rule, one that would impact only a fraction of games, was being implemented. Nor would fans get up and leave at the conclusion of the 9th inning of a tie game strictly to avoid the resultant besmirching from the abomination of seeing a runner on second before a batter has stepped in.

Hell, when you get down to it, it’s really no different from having to watch LaTroy Hawkins pitch in extras.

Wait, am I saying that even the fans offering up the most strenuous protestations of this potential rule change would stick around after its advent? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. For the most part, anyway. But, and this is where the rubber meets the road, it might not matter in the end. That’s because the goal of these changes has nothing to do with current fans. MLB’s efforts to shorten games and spice them up a little are aimed squarely at increasing their appeal to new audiences.

While that’s a noble endeavor in and of itself, the commissioner is missing the boat badly if he thinks shortening extra-inning games will draw in fans who weren’t previously interested. Why? Well, for starters, YOU STILL HAVE TO SIT THROUGH NINE INNINGS BEFORE THE RULE CHANGE MATTERS. No one who’s been moping around complaining about how boring baseball is will suddenly buy a ticket or plop down in front of the TV in the hopes of seeing a man in scoring position to start an inning three hours into the game.

Ipso facto, MLB might end up hemorrhaging more fans through a gaping hole in logic that even 108 stitches aren’t enough to sew up. Yeah, I know I said most of the 29.8 percent of respondents above who said they’d watch fewer games are probably just knee-jerking, but even a third of that group carrying through would be incredibly detrimental.

And I’m not talking about just the 20 people from the survey in question, but their philosophical brethren and sistren who would join them in turning off, tuning out, and dropping away from the game.

If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’d like to take a moment to speak directly to Commissioner Manfred, whose pace-of-play initiatives continue to irk me and draw the ire of many other fans. Mr. Manfred, if you want to draw more fans to your sport, maybe you should start by making it more accessible to people when it comes to how they prefer to consume it. Your blackout restrictions and media-rights hegemony only serve to disenfranchise current fans and prevent would-be viewers from getting hooked.

Call me crazy, I just think letting people watch the damn games — no matter how long they last — is a better incentive than shortening them on the back end. But what do I know, I’m just an avid consumer of baseball who happens to run a burgeoning digital empire (very liberal definition) dedicated to a team engaged in said sport.

In the end, I really don’t know that bringing this rule to MLB would have a discernible long-term impact, though I do believe it’s much more likely that said impact could skew negative. So what say you, dear reader?


*The analysis used the following criteria:

  • 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.
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