Is there a Mercy Rule (Run Rule) in Major League Baseball (MLB)?


If you’re looking for a quick answer, then here it is: no mercy rule, sometime known as a run rule, exists in major league baseball.

Has implementing the rule ever been discussed?

Yes, most recently by then Yankees manager Aaron Boone following a dreadful loss to the Cleveland Indians (19-5). Now, Boone didn’t come out and say the rule should be implemented. Instead, he simply said “there may be some merit to [the idea]”. Far from endorsement, it is still important to note that someone within major league baseball has voiced the possibility.

Why should a mercy run rule be implemented?

Mercy rules are not simply to protect the pride of the losing team. Far from it, as I have never appreciated being on the losing end of a mercy finish. You remember those.

Instead, one of the major reasons is safety. Just at major league baseball this past year. I don’t know if it’s true, but it felt like a lot more position players were asked to finish blowout games. While these guys may have some pitching experience, they are far from major-league caliber pitchers. Lack of routine pitching can lead these guys to have injuries, or at least sore shoulders for a few days. Not quite ideal. Major league baseball has now implemented a rule to limit when position players can actually pitch:

  • When a team is losing by 6 or more runs
  • When the game is in extra innings

Some, like Boone, could see this as more of a band aid than actually solving the underlying issue.

Concerns about implementing the rule

Fan experience

Admittedly, the fan experience may be quite ruined if their team is losing in a theoretical mercy rule game. And even blowouts for winning teams became less fun after a certain point. But, fans pay for tickets with an expectation of nine innings. Baseball would need to consider how, if at all, to handle games that end early. Do fans receive partial refunds? Is that just part of the “risk” associated with coming to a game?

Advertisers

Advertising revenue is a big moneymaker for sports. Eliminated expected advertising slots from a game could have negative ramifications. Then again, it is reasonable to expect the number of potential mercy run games to be relatively low. It’s not perfect, but position players pitched in around 50 games last year (roughly 2%). So, advertiser disgruntlement should not be too high. And again, perhaps there would be some sort of allowance when games end early.

Bench Players

I consider this a minor factor, but non-starters from both teams usually get extra game experience during blowouts.

Do other baseball leagues have mercy rules?

Yes, many baseball leagues have mercy rules:

  • Little League
  • High school
  • College
  • Korean
  • International events like World Baseball Cup
  • Cuban Serie Nacional

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