On Thursday, Pinstripe Alley covered how weekly doubleheaders might work as a means to wring more games from an abbreviated 2020 schedule. It’s a proposition the league appears to be taking seriously, and now an additional wrinkle might be considered: limiting the games in doubleheaders to seven innings apiece.
While it may offend the sensibilities of some traditionalists, the idea has some traction. Seven-inning doubleheaders are currently implemented in both college ball and the minors, and voices in the major-league world have already spoken of it as a viable contingency.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and Rockies manager Bud Black have each publicly suggested seven-inning twin bills as a possibility, and Aaron Boone also weighed in, mentioning the practice as one of several creative solutions to a potential calendar crunch.
If MLB were to boost the number of games this year using shortened doubleheaders, Boone’s Yankees might actually benefit — especially the starting rotation. Despite a sense that the Yankees’ starters were lacking last year, they were actually effective while they were on the mound. They finished with a respectable 4.51 ERA and 4.38 xFIP, both good for sixth in the American League.
The trouble was their stamina. The starters threw a total of just 778.1 innings last year, 11th in the AL. Their frequent inability to pitch late into games put added pressure on the bullpen, which seemed to falter under the strain come October.
But over seven innings, a starter won’t have to go deep into games in order to limit the wear on the team’s premium relievers. A five-frame outing in a tightly contested game wouldn’t require every man in the high-leverage quartet of Kahnle, Ottavino, Britton, and Chapman to seal the deal, and it would free those bullpen resources for the other game in the doubleheader.
As an added bonus, Gerrit Cole’s presence would be a particularly powerful asset in these shorter match-ups. He pitched at least seven innings in 15 of his 33 starts last season, and only failed to complete six frames on four occasions.
By sparing the ‘pen altogether, a single strong Cole performance in a doubleheader could give the Yankees an advantage in not one, but two seven-inning games. The creative scheduling being discussed by MLB will demand equally creative roster management, and Cole can empower Boone to be choosier about when to deploy his bullpen.
Of course, this change wouldn’t be without drawbacks. Regular doubleheaders, and a more crowded schedule in general, will be physically demanding for a Yankees team still haunted by an ugly injury history.
But scaling back to a pair of seven-inning games could help reduce injury risk, at least relative to playing a full nine innings twice over. While Stanton appears to have returned to full health, and both Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks could be available to start the season, the Yankees should still be considered vulnerable to injury until they prove otherwise. Any mechanism that helps ease the stress on the team might ultimately work in the Yankees’ favor.
With the future of the season clouded with uncertainty, it feels a bit inconsequential to be scouring scheduling proposals for a competitive advantage. But you can bet the Yankees are doing just that, even as the status of the new season remains fluid.
And there’s something reassuring about knowing the competitive gears are still turning inside the organization. If play does resume this summer, and if seven-inning doubleheaders play a part, the Yankees should be well positioned to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation.