A glance at the extra inning rule

A 26 inning tie? Crazy, but let's not rule it out yet.

Wishing to limit the length of extra-inning games and preserve pitchers, MLB decided to have a runner placed at second base at the start of each half inning of bonus baseball this year. The runner will not count as an earned run if he scores, and he’ll be the batter that made the last out in the previous inning. 

There are some interesting ways to make the best use of this new rule: For example, if the game is tied with two outs and a speedy runner is coming to bat, do you intentionally walk him and get the next batter out? Do you attempt to pick off or catch the runner stealing? Would a manager have a player purposely make an out to get him to second base in the next inning?

Man, interesting things have happened in the games that have gone into extra innings so far this year:

  • A walk-off grand slam and a walk-off triple!
  • A bunt and sac fly to plate a run. This is a strategy that people seem to be ignoring. 
  • A 13 inning game.
  • A go-ahead run was thrown out at the plate.
  • I am still hoping for a perfect game 1-0 loss.

Let’s get to know extra innings games a bit better and see if we can turn up something interesting. Once again, I’m using Retrosheet’s play-by-play data.

How Frequent are Extra Inning Games?

Extra-inning games happen in about 8%-9% of games each year. The total has bounced between about 7.5% and 10.5% since 1990 and over the past 100 years. So far this year, out of 222 games played, 16 games have been of the extra-inning variety, about 7.3% of the games. So, a little bit behind the norm, but close to the number for 2017. 

Extra Innings Games by Season, since 1990


Does the Home Team Have a Better Chance?

While the home team wins about 54% of the time in the regular season, that drops to about 51% when games are decided in extra innings. There is an advantage to being the visiting team for an extra-inning game.

Games Ending by Inning

After we get past 14 innings, our sample size keeps getting smaller and there is much to start there.

Did you notice the 26 inning tie?

On May 1, 1920 Leon Cardore of the Brooklyn Robins and Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves both went 26 innings and ended up with a 1-1 tie. PitcherList needs to create an award in this duo’s honor. Next, on May 3, the same two teams played for 19 innings. On May 5, the Braves were in Philly and played 11 innings.  Yep, 3 games over 5 days, totaling 56 innings.

90% of the time, a baseball game is over in 13 innings, and 95% of the time, a game is over after 14 innings. We have already seen a 13 inning game and an 11 inning game. Not a bad guess to say we’ll see a 14 inning game before the season is over.  It is hard to make strong conclusions with only 16 extra-inning affairs from this year, but at this time the new rule does not seem to be changing much.

The best way to limit the length of games and save the pitchers is by calling a game a tie. Yes, there are ties in baseball (even really LONG ones), but they have become very infrequent. The last tie was on July 16, 1988. The Cubs and Dodgers were tied after nine innings, but the game was called and replayed the next day. Fun fact, the stats for the tie game count, but the game does not affect the stands. MLB now uses suspended games to continue and avoid replaying the game. 

Just for Fun!

Using Retrosheet’s play-by-play data I did find 61 instances of extra-inning games where both teams had runners on second with no outs in the tenth inning. The sample size is too small, but there is a 14 inning game there, and I don’t see where it will do more than just reduce the number of extreme outliers. It is interesting to see that the situation has happened before, albeit with the runner on second actually having to bat first.

Games Ending by Inning


Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

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