How will the Detroit Tigers be impacted by the new extra innings rule this year? Let’s look at some of the numbers to find out.
The shortened 2020 MLB season will look a lot different for several reasons, and one of them is the new rule that will put a runner on second base to start extra innings. As we would expect, every team must be thinking about how it will impact them. For the Detroit Tigers to take advantage of the new rule, they will need to improve in some areas over 2019.
We’ll start with the pitching. Overall, Tigers pitchers were worse in 2019 with RISP (.286 BAA, .857 OPS) than they were with the bases empty (.261, .790) so that will need to be improved. Specifically, with a man on second base, the Tigers allowed a .295 BA and a .917 OPS. And if the opposing team got the runner over to third, those numbers balloon to .355 and 1.101, with 13 sacrifice flies allowed.
One promising stat is that the Tigers were relatively good in extra innings on the mound last year. The team went 6-10, but pitchers allowed a .254 BA and a .796 OPS in extra innings, marks that were better than every other inning except the ninth.
Getting strikeouts will be critical in these situations, and for that reason, the Tigers will likely want to have their best strikeout pitchers on the mound. For that, the best candidates may be Joe Jimenez (12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2019), Jose Cisnero (10.2), Buck Farmer (9.7), and David McKay (13.5). Ron Gardenhire might want to manage close games so that he has one or two of these guys available for extra innings if a game goes that way.
Now for the hitting. We know that the Tigers’ offense was bad last year, but compared to other situations, they weren’t necessarily worse with a man on second, batting .246 as a team with a .701 OPS. With a man on third, it was .242 and .668.
The Tigers only had nine sacrifice hits all of last year, which isn’t a surprise given that pitchers don’t bat in the AL (and won’t in the NL this year either). Yet all AL teams – the Tigers included – might want to work on their bunting or hitting balls to the right side in this second spring training. Indeed, fundamental baseball will become more important with this new rule.
This could become moot if teams decide to intentionally walk the Tigers’ first batter of the inning, which might happen if last year’s trends continue. In 2019, in first and second situations, the Tigers batted just .214 with a .532 OPS. As a team, they grounded into 108 double plays.
With the new rule, the batter who made the last out the previous inning will take second base to start the inning, or the team can use a pinch-hitter. Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have a lot of fast runners on their team; perhaps this is an opportunity for a minor leaguer with speed to show what he can do this spring training and earn a bench spot.
However, it’s not just about fast running, but it’s also smart baserunning. Last year, the Tigers made 54 outs on the bases (league average was 49), while their stolen base percentage was 74% (league average was 73%). The team will want to continue working on baserunning as they prepare for the season.
So, it looks like if the Tigers want to take advantage of the extra innings rule, they have some things they need to work on. Hopefully, they can improve some situational hitting and get better on the mound in clutch situations. It might mean the difference between winning and losing in close games.