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Changing baseball: A thought experiment

Baseball has been pretty much the same for a long time. What this piece presupposes is: what if we change it?

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s an idea to change baseball that baseball would never ever in a million years consider.

This change doesn’t fix any purported problems with baseball. It probably wouldn’t change the average length of the game, which is something that some idiots out there think is a problem. It doesn’t address the shift or hitters trying to get more lift in their swings. It doesn’t help you make up rain outs. But what it does, I think, is change baseball in a relatively small way that would have some really interesting consequences that I’d like to play out here. Baseball will never do this, but I think it could be cool.

A baseball game, properly considered, consists of nine innings with the innings halved into a top and a bottom. The teams play one half in the field and one half batting. At the end of nine innings, the team that has scored more runs is declared the winner. If there is a tie, they play full innings until there isn’t. It’s simple and orderly and makes for, in my opinion, the best sporting game on the planet.

What would happen though if we changed it? What if instead of playing one game of nine innings, the teams played nine games of one inning?

Imagine: the game begins in the top of the first inning with the visiting team batting and the home team pitching. When three outs are recorded, the teams switch. At the end of the first inning, the team that has scored more runs is declared the winner of the inning. If there is a tie, then the inning is declared a draw. The scores reset at the beginning of the second inning and so it continues until a team has won five innings. So instead of scoring like football or basketball, the game would be scored more like tennis.

The lineup stays the same. You still have to bat all nine players before turning it over. Players can still only be substituted once over the duration of the game. All of those mechanics of the game would remain the same. The only difference would be how the scoring is organized.

Take a look at the scoreboard again:

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox
In this example, the first three innings and the seventh would be draws, the Indians would win the fourth and the sixth, the Red Sox would win the fifth.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Each inning would be scored individually, so in this example, the first three innings and the seventh would be draws, the Indians would win the fourth and the sixth, the Red Sox would win the fifth. And so, In the bottom of eighth inning as shown, the Indians would be leading two innings to one. Get it?

What would happen?

Game management would be completely different

Managers would have quite a bit more to do, I think. If the inning is close or tied or a game-deciding inning, relievers and pinch-hitters would be leveraged quite a bit more. Managers would call on pinch-hitters far more often, as key high-leverage situations wouldn’t be exclusive to close games in the late innings. If in the third inning the team is down two innings to zero, a manager might feel more pressure to earn a win in the third inning so as to try to keep the game from running away. And so he might pinch-hit for his light-hitting shortstop with his best power-hitting bench player. In the third inning.

Because each inning is now individually more important, you likely would see far fewer mop-up situations. There might be a big inning where a team scores five or six runs and so a mop-up guy is sent in to try to get the last few outs, but the game resets the very next inning, so you likely would no longer see the mop-up guy soaking up low-quality innings. Each new inning presents an opportunity to win.

Lineup construction would also likely change a bit. As each new inning resets the premium of a run, you might see managers build their lineups in shifts rather than in the conventional way. Managers might continue to try to stream their best hitters together, but you also might see some try to create scoring chances spread evenly through the lineup rather than mostly at the top.

It might also increase the number of instances of position players coming in to pitch, which would be the coolest dang thing ever. Now, position players pitch only late in the game when the team is down by a seemingly insurmountable margin. But in this thought experiment, a pitcher might give up six runs in an inning and the manager might just punt. This could happen in multiple innings through the game, not just in the eighth or ninth.

You would also see a ton of walk-off hits. The home team shuts out the visitors in the top of the inning and in the bottom, the lead-off hitter cranks a solo homer. Inning over.

The duration of the game could be much shorter, or maybe much longer

A team could really blow out an opponent by winning the first five innings and thus ending the game, which could take maybe a bit over an hour or so. Or you might get a real pitchers’ duel where both teams struggle to score runs, and thus marking a lot of draw innings. It might take 15 or 16 innings for a team to reach five inning-wins. Think again about the tennis comparison. There are matches where Serena crushes her opponent in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-0, and there are matches where it goes to five sets and takes four or five hours. You’d see something similar in baseball.

The game would never get boring

Every new inning presents a chance for a team to register a win, and so you would eliminate the situations where a game can start to drag a bit. No longer would you see a game in the sixth inning where a team is losing 12-3 and so benches all of its best players and basically gives up. Essentially, what this does is create the possibility for high-leverage situations in every single inning. I can’t for the life of me see how anyone could think that is a bad thing.

Again, MLB will never go for such a radical redesign of our favorite pastime, but I envision a parallel professional league maybe trying it out. Kinda like what arena football did with that stupid game.

I dunno. What do you think? Is this the completely unreasonable stupid idea of a dumb fanblog, or is it so dumb that it might be the geniusest thing you’ve ever read?