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MLB, MLBPA agree to extra-inning rule, 7-inning doubleheaders for 2021, per reports

Players and owners agree to health & safety protocols with spring training just over a week away

Los Angeles Dodgers v Houston Astros
On July 29, 2020, Edwin Ríos won a game with a leadoff two-run home run thanks to the extra-inning rule. It was one of two 13-inning games across MLB all season, the longest games of the year.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached agreement on health and safety protocols on Monday, per multiple reports, which include the return of seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning games will again include a free runner on second base to start each extra frame in 2021.

Last year the extra-inning rule was agreed to before the July start of the season that was shortened due to the pandemic. Seven-inning doubleheaders were added a week into the season, to alleviate part of the burden of potentially rescheduling games that were postponed due to COVID-19, or otherwise.

The runner-on-second rule had a large impact on shortening the length of extra-inning games in 2020. There were 77 extra-inning games last year, including nine games that were originally scheduled for seven innings as part of a doubleheader. Fifty-four of those games ended after one extra inning, a 70-percent mark that was up from 45 percent in 2018-19 combined.

Last year, 92.2 percent of extra-inning games ended by the second extra frame, compared to 69.1 percent in the previous two seasons.

Length of extra-inning games

Year Extra-inning games 10 innings 11 innings 12 innings 13+ innings
Year Extra-inning games 10 innings 11 innings 12 innings 13+ innings
2018 216 100 (46.2%) 44 (20.4%) 33 (15.3%) 39 (18.1%)
2019 208 91 (43.8%) 58 (27.9%) 22 (10.6%) 37 (17.8%)
2020* 77 54 (70.1%) 17 (22.1%) 4 (5.2%) 2 (2.6%)
*For 7-inning doubleheaders in 2020, I counted 8-inning games as 10-inning games (their equivalent for a regular, 9-inning game), 9-inning games as 11, and so on.

The longest game by inning in 2020 was 13 innings, done twice, including the Dodgers beating the Astros on July 29 in Houston. That accounted for only 2.6 percent of all extra-inning games last year, compared to 18 percent of extra-inning games lasting at least that long in 2018-19.

The Dodgers played six extra-inning games in 2020, with four lasting 10 innings and another 11 innings in addition to the 13-inning contest in July. Manager Dave Roberts in December said he was skeptical of some of the new rules last season but warmed to some of them, including the runner on second base rule.

“I think the purpose it served for ‘20, it could still be a benefit going forward,” Roberts said.

Also among the health and safety protocols agreed to, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, was “more sophisticated contact tracing for COVID-19 that includes the use of technology, and more league rules on behavior to comply with novel coronavirus protocols.”

Not included among the protocols is the designated hitter in the National League, which was adopted last year amid a shorter ramp up in summer camp after a long layoff. Joel Sherman at the New York Post explained where the two sides differ on this:

The union has seen the installment of a full-time DH as a health and safety issue to protect pitchers — none of whom hit last year and all of whom will be just trying to build up their arms after a shortened season (and no minor league campaign).

MLB views the designated hitter as a financial issue because it believes it offers monetary benefits to the players.