Kill the Zombie Runner

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley of the excellent Effectively Wild Podcast, have routinely discussed the many problems of MLB's "zombie runner" rule. For the uninitiated, this is a runner that starts on second base at the beginning of every inning when the game goes into extra innings. Put in place with the hopes of shortening games during the Covid pandemic, and then kept because players and broadcasters liked being able to leave work early.

If you accept the premise that extra inning games are undesirable, then I have a solution which is far superior: ties are broken by the team with the most bases safely reached. Any legal way to reach safely counts as a base: hits, walks, steals, hit-by-pitch, errors... any time a person reaches a base safely.

First off, this is intuitive. If Team East is being shut out, and Team West has regularly been cluttering up the base paths all game long, but just hasn't been able to get a run across, it'd be a tie, but it's obvious West has been having a better game. When the score is the same, but one team is clearly playing better, that's the perfect time and method for a tie-breaker.

"Ok," you may admit, "for games that are really lopsided, this would make sense, but what about games that are closer? Does this tie-breaker rule still make sense?" In fact, this is where I believe this "all bases count" tie-breaker really shines by encouraging more action on the bases.

Take the following bits of current baseball wisdom:

1-Intentionally walking the bases full: if a player is already on 3rd and 2nd, walk the bases full so you've got force outs available at every plate.

2-Pitcher indifference: if it's late in the game, let steals happen, and just focus on the batter.

3-Never make the first or third out at 3rd: gaining 3rd base is worthless because you're already in scoring position at second, so don't bother with 3rd unless you're sure to make it.

Each of these are currently valid "smart" strategies. But they're not certainly not fun. There are a ton a ton of exciting close plays that we're just giving up for sake of strategy. With this rule change, every base could mean the difference between a win and a loss. Triples and steals are some of the most exciting plays in baseball, but currently often discouraged. This rule change would make these plays more valuable throughout the game.

Most importantly, it does not fundamentally change game-play like the zombie runner does. The ultimate goal has always been to score by getting the runner across home plate, and you do this by taking as many bases as possible. This tie-breaker does not change that; you still want the batter to get on base and as often and as far as possible every time. The zombie runner places a player on second without having to earn it, which has never happened in baseball until this strange rule.

This would still get players home early, give the team that played the best the win, and make the play in the meantime, more entertaining.