By Connor Thomas
The iconic baseball manager Casey Stengel once famously said that “There are three things you can do in a baseball game. You can win, or you can lose, or it can rain.” Well, unfortunately yesterday for the Phillies and the New York Mets, it rained. As a result, both teams got a day off to wait out the weather and prepare for a double header that will take place later this afternoon. What Stengel and others throughout baseball history never mentioned, however, was that those rainouts might one day lead to 7 inning double headers. Starting last season, masked as a necessity of the pandemic-tightened schedule, the MLB tried to make one of many moves to shorten game times and increase the sports’ appeal; they reduced the number of innings in double headers from 9 to 7. At face value, this change did exactly what the MLB wanted it to do: it shortened game times and allowed them to make it through a pandemic shortened season on schedule. Now, in a full 162 game season, the 7 inning double headers are back again, this time at the expense of the integrity of the game, among other things.
Baseball was not built to be a 7 inning game. Most players never play 7 innings after they get done with high school. From personal experience playing for a competitive D3 college baseball program, I know that even at the lowest division of college baseball the double headers played are 9 innings each. If college kids have the time in between classes to fit in two 9 inning games, then professional baseball players sure as hell have the time when the schedule is not pandemic restricted. Not only is it possible to play 9 inning double headers – baseball has been doing it for over 100 years – but it is imperative to the consistency of the sport to play 9 innings for every game. Sure, on an off chance you get a game that gets rained out in the 6th or 7th inning and the game counts as a full game in the standings, but that is a rare occurrence that has been built into the game for decades. To play multiple games in a row that are 2 innings shorter than the normal games on the schedule? It’s a preposterous change to the game that alters statistics, standings, and the flow of individual games. Could you imagine if the back end of a double header in basketball was only 3 quarters? What if hockey games played on consecutive nights were 2 periods? The Eagles had some heavy rain on Sunday, so now they’ll only play 3 quarters of the game.
It would be completely absurd in the other major sports, so why is it acceptable in baseball? It absolutely should not be. Just take a look at how statistics are calculated. At face value, baseball is a game of averages, which plays to the length of the season and should not be affected significantly by shortened games. This is not the case, however, when it comes to cumulative stats like home runs, strikeouts, shutouts, and the like. In 7 inning games, players are placed at a statistical disadvantage compared to the rest of the league playing 9 inning games. Should a pitcher throwing a 7 inning shutout get the same statistical benefit that a pitcher going the extra 2 innings to throw a clean 9? My vote is a strong no. Speaking of pitchers, the flow of the game significantly changes by cutting off the last 2 innings of a ball game, as the bullpen innings are now effectively cut in half. In 2020, the average MLB starting pitcher lasted about 4 and 2/3rd innings per start. That leaves 4 and 1/3rd innings left for bullpen work in a 9 inning game, which gets cut down to 2 and 1/3rd during 7 inning double headers. The work of relief pitchers is effectively cut in half, which reduces the parity of the sport. Do you think Jacob deGrom wishes he didn’t have to turn the ball over to the Mets bullpen in the 7th inning? I’m sure he does, but the length of the game does not allow that, and, alas, has cost him a number of wins.
In 7 inning double headers, the advantage of elite starting pitching like a deGrom is magnified to an almost unfair level. All of these leads to wins that are either easier to come by, or simply don’t tell the full story that movements in the standings from 9 inning games do. Seemingly every night there is an 8th or 9th inning that results in a lead change that ends up changing the outcome of the contest. Short double headers are robbing fans, and more importantly, teams’ standings, of those late inning comebacks. At the end of the day, 7 inning double headers should have been nothing more than a shortened season sideshow that died the day the 2020 season closed. The longer they continue to be a part of Major League Baseball, the more they bastardize the statistics and standings of baseball as we know it.