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Extra-inning runners are here to stay as MLB makes rule permanent

The MLB competition committee unanimously added the “zombie runner” into the rules while also tweaking position player pitching eligibility.

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Per Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Major League Baseball’s Joint Competition Committee held votes a couple key parts of play for the upcoming 2023 season. There will already be new rules regarding the pitch clock, shift restrictions, and bigger bases, but there was more in the works.

First, the extra innings rule regarding the runner on second base will now be permanent for 2023 and beyond. Secondly, position players can now only throw in extra innings, in the ninth when the opposing team is leading by ten or more, or finally when the losing team is losing by at least eight.

The first rule is the more controversial of the two. It was first put in place during the 2020 and 2021 COVID-restricted seasons to try and keep extra-inning games from being incessantly long. The rule was kept in 2022, and now with this update, it will be in place for this upcoming season and the foreseeable future.

A good number of fans don’t like this rule, given the response to Rogers’ tweet alone. Although it has more than a small share of supporters, many still believe the runners on base during extra innings need to be earned and not handed to them. However, with baseball games being as long as they consistently are and that being a primary reason casual fans don’t watch the sport, it’s not a surprise that Rob Manfred and MLB as a whole decided to keep this rule in place. The players wildly support it as well, as it means a shorter workday, so with them in agreement with the league on this topic, it was only a matter of time.

As for the position players pitching rule, MLB is trying to reduce the number of instances that it happens, so they have tightened the reins. Instead of non-pitcher being permitted to take the mound when the deficit is six runs, they can always pitch in extra innings in a game where the winning team has a 10-run lead or the losing team is trailing by 8 runs.

Last season, there were 132 different appearances by position players on the mound, a league record by a long shot. Instead of teams using them sparingly out of fear of embarrassment, it became a strategy to help preserve bullpen arms in games that seemed too far out of reach. This rule mainly helps reduce the risk of injury to said position players who have never pitched or not pitched in years of playing, and it also keeps teams from waving the white flag too early, ideally maintaining some semblance of competition despite big leads. Of course, it will not outlaw it entirely, but the essential piece for Manfred and the MLB Joint Competition Committee was cracking down on the practice.

The game as we know it is changing; some might say for the better, and others might say it’s for the worse. But what we have now is what will be in place for a while.