Dodgers’ Justin Turner proposes creative solution to extra-inning games in 2020

With the spread of the novel coronavirus delaying the start of Major League Baseball’s season, one thing is for certain: The league and the Players Association are free to take creative liberties with whatever (if anything) comes of the 2020 campaign. That could mean altering the schedule to add in more (seven-inning) doubleheaders; that could mean playing the postseason at neutral sites; and, well, that could mean deciding extra-inning affairs with a home-run derby, at least if one former All-Star gets their wish.

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner made a simple proposal during a television appearance on Spectrum SportsNet on Wednesday. “Instead of playing 17 innings, you get one extra inning, you play the 10th inning, and no one scores, then you go to a home run derby,” he said, according to ESPN. “You take each team’s three best hitters and you give them all five outs and see who hits the most homers.”

Under Turner’s proposal, which he later compared to shootouts in hockey, a coach would be the one throwing batting practice during the home-run derby session. The goal is to prevent pitchers from amassing extra wear and tear on their arms, and to provide fans with a more exciting conclusion than a tie. (Though it should be noted that other leagues, including the Korean Baseball Organization use ties to good effect. KBO games are considered a tie after 12 innings during the regular season.)

According to Baseball Reference, 208 games went into extra innings during the 2019 season. Had Turner’s home-run derby rule been in effect, then 117 (or 56 percent) of those would have ended with a slugfest. 

While there’s no reason to think Turner’s suggestion will be implemented, MLB has experimented with a different method for speeding up extra-inning games by placing a runner at second base to begin each extra frame. That way, the go-ahead, tying, or winning run is already in scoring position with no one out in the inning. It’s unclear if and when MLB intends to implement that rule at the big-league level.

If ever there was a time to protect against marathon games, this would be it. Provided there is a season, it will be of the dense variety, and will likely stretch into November. Factor in how pitchers are dealing with an uncertain ramp-up period, and MLB will either have to delay next season or risk pitchers hurting their arms.

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