EVANSVILLE — Behold, another gimmick to spice up America’s pastime: sudden-death baseball.
It’s coming soon to Bosse Field and throughout the Frontier League, which announced Monday it will be adopting a new rule change to determine the winner of extra-inning games for the 2022 season.
Any game tied after nine innings (or seven in a doubleheader) will play one extra inning with the international tiebreaker rule, which calls for a runner on second base. MLB has used this rule since 2020 and the Frontier League first installed it in 2015, though it used to start in the 11th inning.
Then, there will be a sudden-death half-inning if the game remains tied, and the home manager decides whether his team will be on offense or defense. Offense will start with a runner on first.
If the batting team scores, it wins.
If the pitching team gets three outs, it wins.
“Short of playing traditional extra innings, the sudden death tiebreaker is the best option for determining the outcome of a game,” said Evansville’s Andy McCauley, the Frontier League’s winningest active manager and reigning Manager of the Year. “With regard to game time, injury prevention, and a baseball strategic outcome I feel the new sudden-death rule could be an innovative solution.”
The rule guarantees no game will take longer than 10.5 innings, a benefit to pitching staffs that are often stretched. Last season, any game tied after 10 innings was decided by a home run derby.
The Otters went 5-1 in derby deciders, but managers unanimously were against that format. In the derby, each team selected three players to hit. Each saw eight pitches and the team with the most home runs won.
So, managers didn’t want their teams playing endless games, nor did they like breaking ties with a home run derby. They instead devised another controversial method.
“While sudden death will not happen every game, we believe when it does it will have the fans on their feet,” Frontier League deputy commissioner Kevin Winn said. “This initiative received overwhelming support from our current field managers and rules committee.”
It was first proposed by former Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey, who’s now in the San Francisco Giants’ organization.
While there is no publicly available data for the Frontier League, run expectancy charts show in MLB games from 1950 to 2015 that one run could be expected to score between 41-45% of the time when there’s a man on first and no outs.
That’s close enough to 50-50 that the home team will have a decision to make, based on where teams are in their lineups and how thin bullpens have been stretched.
A new season will be underway on May 13 at Bosse Field. The Otters went 57-39 last year to tie the franchise mark for single-season wins, but they missed the postseason for the first time since 2015. Only four division winners made the playoffs in the 14-team league and the Otters had a better record than three of them, but not West Division champion Florence.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Sudden-death baseball for Frontier League, Evansville's Bosse Field