Seven years ago, I went on national television and proposed a new rule for baseball. I said I couldn’t save 10 minutes of play in every game, but I sure could lose 10 minutes of play in a lot of games. My rule proposal would be to eliminate the top of the 9th if the visiting team had more than a five-run lead.
I was trying to eliminate hundreds of meaningless at-bats over the course of the season. My reasoning was that we’ve played 8 ½-inning games for more than 125 years (when the home team leads, there is no bottom of the ninth).
Major League Baseball has eliminated about the same number of at-bats over the course of the season that I proposed. Only what they’ve done by installing automatic runners on second base to start every half-inning in extra-innings is eliminate meaningful, high-leveraged at-bats.
Remember when baseball games sometimes went 12 innings? 13 innings? 14 innings? Longer? If you were ever lucky enough to attend one of those games, it’s probably among your favorite baseball memories.
Those games are becoming rarer and rarer.
On Tuesday night, the Oakland A’s defeated the Texas Rangers, 14-7, in 12 innings. It was one of the longest games of the season by innings played.
Entering Wednesday, there have been 1,313 games played in 2022. That’s 54% of the 2,430-game regular season. Of those 1,313 games, only two of them have gone longer than 12 innings (and none have gone longer than 13 innings).
Longest Games in 2022 by Inning
13 Cubs-Yankees on June 10
13 Rays-Orioles on May 20
The Oakland/Texas 12-inning game on Tuesday night was only the seventh of the season to go 12 innings. So only nine games (out of 1,313) have gone longer than 11 innings.
Are there a lot fewer extra-innings now? Yes, there are.
2022: 261.2 innings of “free baseball” (on pace for 484 innings)
2019: 891 innings of “free baseball”
2018: 880 innings of “free baseball”
That’s about 400 fewer extra-innings over the course of a season.
Or, if you prefer to look at it from at-bats, we can do that, too.
2022: 976 at-bats in extra innings (on pace for 1,807 AB)
2019: 3,308 at-bats in extra innings
2018: 3,307 at-bats in extra innings
I understand that the chief reason MLB wanted to put runners on base to start extra innings was so that it would protect pitchers’ arms. Managers would literally run out of pitchers, and it would affect the staff for the next couple of days.
As it is, even without long, extra-inning games, we have managers utilizing position players to pitch mop-up duty (another reason for my proposal to cut out some portion of the blowouts).
Now, I know that just because the games are longer, they aren’t necessarily the most exciting. Take the 13-inning games this season. In the Cubs-Yankees marathon, the Cubs went 0-18 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees were 1-19, with Jose Trevino’s game-winning hit off Alec Mills the lone hit in the game with RISP. Was it great pitching, or offensive futility?
On the other hand, the 13-inning game between the Orioles and Rays on May 20 was an exciting, memorable contest that was one of the best games of the season. The Orioles used a Rougned Odor walk-off home run to end a 15-game losing streak to division rival Tampa Bay. Not only that, it came a day following Anthony Santander’s walk-off homer against the Yankees one day earlier. Those victories kick-started a 50-game stretch for Baltimore in which the team is 30-20. In that 13-inning victory over Tampa Bay, the Rays took a three-run lead in the top of the fifth, only to see the Birds tie it up in the seventh. The Rays took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th, only to see the Birds tie things up in the bottom of the inning. The Rays took a lead in the top of the 11th, and once again Baltimore answered. Finally, in the bottom of the 13th, Odor hit his walk-off.
Stats we like, stats we don’t:
The Royals’ Whit Merrifield sat out the first game of Monday afternoon’s double-header against Detroit with a foot injury. That ended Merrifield’s consecutive game streak at 533. The new active leader is Matt Olson, who has played in 223 straight games (or 8.4% of Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games). After Olson, the Dodgers’ Trea Turner has played in 127 consecutive games.
Now, if I’m not all that impressed by Matt Olson leading baseball in consecutive games played, I am impressed that he’s leading the league in an important category that is often overlooked.
Olson leads MLB with 33 doubles. Is that a lot?
Matt is on pace for 60 doubles this season, seven shy of the MLB record.
Earl Webb set the mark with 67 doubles in 1931. Webb was a non-descript player for a bad Red Sox team, never before or after leading the league in any category. He never had more than 30 doubles in a season outside of 1931.
Olson is on pace for 60 doubles. The Braves’ franchise record is 51, set by Hugh Duffy in 1894. The modern-era franchise record is Marcus Giles (49 doubles in 2003).
If you’re wondering, Hank Aaron never hit more than 46 doubles in a season (1959). Chipper Jones never hit more than 42 doubles (2007).
Since 1936, when Ducky-Wucky Medwick (64 doubles) and Charlie Gehringer (60 doubles) did it, no player has hit 60 doubles in a season.
Matt Olson is on pace for 60. Since 1936, Todd Helton has the most, 59 doubles in 2000. And in 2019, Nick Castellanos hit 58 doubles.
There’s a lot of attention on whether Aaron Judge will hit 60 home runs this season. But I’m equally interested in Olson hitting 60 doubles.
Slugging percentages continue to drop
One reason that Olson’s mark fascinates me is that he is doing it in a year in which offense and slugging is down.
And by the way, Olson isn’t just collecting two-baggers. He is tied for second trailing only Jose Ramirez in extra-base hits, on pace for 86.
The Major League SLG percentage this year is .395. It was .411 in 2021. It was .418 in 2020. It was .435 in 2019.
In the 60-game season of 2020, there were nine qualifiers that had a slugging percentage over .600. This year, through Tuesday, there are only two players with a slugging percentage that high: Yordan Alvarez and Aaron Judge. Mike Trout, who has slugged higher than .600 for each of the last five seasons, is at .599.
One stat that I really, really dislike:
How can I hate save opportunities? It seems so direct, and easy-to-understand.
Do you know the active leader in “saves in consecutive opportunities”? The Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman has converted his last 23 save opportunities.
On April 14, versus the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, Chappy entered the game in the top of the ninth with a 3-0 lead. That was/is/and will be a save opportunity. Aroldis could not find the plate, and walked three consecutive batters to load the bases. Aaron Boone took the ball away from him and brought in Michael King. King struck out George Springer, and then got Bo Bichette to line into a game-ending double play.
Despite Chapman entering in a save opportunity (and not retiring a batter) his “streak” was intact because it technically wasn’t a blown save.
On July 2, in Cleveland, Chapman entered the game with a 10-2 lead in the bottom of the 7th. If Chapman pitched the rest of the game and the Yankees had won, it would have been a 3-inning save for Chapman. That, to me, is a save opp. Aroldis walked all three batters he faced, before leaving the game.
Despite these situations, according to MLB and the Yankees, Chapman has converted all nine of his save opportunities this year. It is the longest active streak in the Majors. It is the third-longest streak of Chapman’s career, trailing only a 29-save streak (July 4, 2014 to May 30, 2015) and a 27-save streak (June 26, 2012 to September 4, 2012).
All-Star Game coming up
The All-Star Game doesn’t have the same meaning that it once did. But it’s fun, more like a convention than a competition. Here’s my prediction. Albert Pujols will hit a home run, his first homer in an ASG in his career.