Frontier League Announces Implementation Of “Sudden Death” Extra-Innings Rule

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Earlier this week, the Frontier League announced an alteration to its extra-innings format. The 15-team Frontier League is an independent circuit designated as an official partner league of Major League Baseball.

Beginning next season, the Frontier League will implement a system to ensure that marathon games don’t go into effect. The first extra inning — the tenth in regular contests, the eighth on days with scheduled seven-inning doubleheaders — will proceed according to International Tiebreaker Rules. The ITB rule involves placing a runner on second base to start the inning, as MLB has done over the past two years. The Frontier League’s rule change comes if the game remains tied after that frame, as the 11th inning (or 9th in doubleheaders) will proceed in the “Sudden Death” format.

Before the start of the inning, the manager of the home team will decide whether to play offense or defense. The offensive team will begin the inning with a free runner — the previous batter in the lineup — on first base. Picking up wherever they’re scheduled to hit in the lineup, the offensive team has three outs to score the runner. If the runner scores, the offensive team wins. If they don’t score, the defensive team wins.

In recent seasons, MLB has asked its partner leagues to experiment with rules changes it could try in the future. That isn’t the case here, though, and there’s no indication MLB is considering implementing this rule down the road. According to the Frontier League, the idea was first proposed by one of its former managers and deliberated upon by various league skippers and administrators.

As J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes, independent leagues face outsized challenges in managing pitcher workloads compared to those facing MLB teams. Independent teams have stricter roster limits and face the possibility of losing players to affiliated ball. Without a farm system to call upon in the event of a marathon game that taxes a pitching staff, independent leagues have tried creative ways to limit length of extra-inning contests.

Last season, the Frontier League and Pioneer League broke ties with a Home Run Derby swing-off. For the Frontier League, at least, that didn’t sit well with managers. “As fan friendly as that was, it just didn’t feel right. The whole thing was decided by how good your (batting practice) thrower is,” Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley told Cooper. “You got eight pitches. If you didn’t have a guy throwing strikes, you were in trouble. … At least now, there is some baseball strategy still involved other than just eight swings of the bat.

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