If you’re a fan of shootouts in hockey, the Pioneer League is looking to bring something similar to baseball.
As MLB fans adapt to the league’s new extra-innings format, which places a runner on second base at the start of every half-inning following the bottom of the ninth, one of MLB’s professional Partner Leagues is shaking things up in an effort to preserve the health of its pitchers.
Per an announcement ahead of its first season as an independent operation, the Pioneer League announced that its eight teams would be operating without extra innings in 2021, instead opting for a “Knock Out” round to break ties after nine innings.
In the “first-of-its-kind” format, the league says each team will designate a hitter who will receive five pitches, and the winner will be the team with the highest home run total.
If both teams are tied after the first round, then each squad would select another hitter, who would also receive five pitches with the same rules.
According to a press release from the league, the decision was made “to avoid the excessive strain on our pitching staffs.”
The Pioneer League also announced rules for a Designated Pinch Hitter, a Designated Pinch Runner, and a revised “Check Swing” rule.
“I’m thrilled to see these exciting rules changes implemented for this season,” Pioneer League president Michael Shapiro said in the league’s announcement. “The Pioneer Baseball League is committed to developing ideas that enhance the strategy of the game, protect the safety of our players and add to the fun and engagement of our fans.”
“We believe this focus will help assure the future of the game among a broader and more diverse audience.”
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The “Knock Out” round format comes at a unique time for the sport, with the idea of extra innings becoming a hot topic for MLB, its players and its fans.
MLB implemented its runner-on-second format in 2020, and kept the idea in place for the second season of the COVID-19 era, as well. While adding excitement to the game, it also allowed the league to reduce any extended risk that would come from marathon games in the midst of a pandemic.
The rule was thrust into the spotlight rather quickly in 2021, however, as four of the league’s 13 Opening Day games required extra innings to decide a winner.
The excess of extra-innings action led to all sorts of mixed reactions, with some enjoying the competitive nature that comes with the added runner on second, others asking for its departure, and a few posing the idea of ties after a certain amount of innings have been played, a la the NFL.
The Pioneer League, for a variety of reasons, is avoiding that debate entirely, while simultaneously bringing in eyes at a pivotal point in the now-independent league’s history.
At the very least, the idea works in a few ways, all without even having to watch a single game from the 2021 season.
It gets people tuning in to see how the “Knock Out” round truly works, and how it comes across in an in-game scenario.
It saves pitchers’ arms, showcasing some loyalty to the players that the league employs.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it pushes the boundaries on a sport that’s built on tradition, and allows the Pioneer League a low-risk opportunity to be the pioneers behind a potential future for extra-innings baseball.