What is the 10 Run Rule (aka Mercy Rule) in Baseball?

- September 5, 2023

For those that have been a part of baseball or softball at various levels, either as a coach, player, parents, or spectator, you have likely witnessed a game end early due to the 10 Run Rule. Not all leagues have a 10 Run Rule, but a lot of them do. If you’re a novice, perhaps you may be asking, “what is the 10 Run Rule in baseball?”

The 10 run rule, also known as the Mercy Rule, works to end a game early when a team is ahead of another team by at least ten runs after a specified number of innings have been played. The rule is in place to speed up the game and also prevent one team from running up the score and embarrassing their opponent.

Explaining the 10 Run Rule aka Mercy Rule

The 10 Run Rule always takes effect after a certain number of innings, but the number of innings varies from league to league. Typically, baseball leagues will enforce the 10 Run Rule two innings prior to the end of the duration of a regulation game.

Since not all leagues have the rule, it’s best to check that particular league’s rulebook. Some leagues strictly enforce the rule, while others allow their local leagues to do what they deem best for their league.

In some instances, such as Major League Baseball and most professional leagues, the 10 Run Rule doesn’t exist.

The 10 Run Rule at Various Levels

High School

Since high school games are scheduled for 7 innings, when one team is ahead by at least 10 runs after five innings have been played, the team leading is giving the win. The format follows the generally standard practice of taking effect two innings prior to the end of a regulation game.

Little League

For youths ages 8 to 12 that play Little League baseball, standard games are six innings in duration. Therefore, the 10 Run Rule takes effect after the completion of four full innings. It must be noted that each local league has the option as to whether or not to implement the rule. In most cases, the leagues will use the 10 Run Rule to quicken games and avoid potential embarrassment to the losing team, but it’s not required.

Ten Run Lead is Required

As is pretty evident in the name of the rule, one team must be ahead by at least ten runs for the game to favor the leading team. The game is immediately over after the specified number of innings has passed, with one team ahead by 10 or more.

What is very important to remember is that it doesn’t matter if a team gets ahead by 10 runs in the first couple of innings and keeps piling on. The game must go the minimum required innings, even if a team gets ahead by 15 or even 20 runs.

Home Team Gets Last At-Bat

Remember that the home team always gets the final at-bat, so if they are behind by 10 or more runs, they have a chance to extend the game beyond the minimum 10 Run Rule inning requirement.

On the other hand, if the home team is ahead by 10 or more runs, then there is no need for a final at-bat. In the case where the 10 Run Rule takes effect after five innings, the game would end after that top of the 5th inning with the home team declared the winner.

Why Implement the Mercy Rule?

In a way, it can be tough on the losing team when the 10 Run Rule comes into play because they don’t have a chance to battle back over the final innings. However, there are some benefits to having the rule.

Games End in a Timely Manner

In some cases, teams are just completely mismatched, and it becomes very obviously quickly after the game starts. This can make getting outs extremely difficult for the weaker team. These games can drag for what seems like an eternity with scores as lopsided as 20 and even 30 runs. Considering that Little League and High School games are typically starting in the late afternoon or even early evening on fields without lights, daylight could end before the total number of innings are completed. The 10 Run Rule certainly allows the winner to be declared in a timely fashion.

Prevents a Team from Needlessly Routing the Opponent

Generally, teams won’t intentionally try to embarrass an opponent, but sometimes games get out of hands. Sometimes pitches on the other team can’t throw the ball over the plate or make even the most routine plays. Teams ahead by a significant number of runs will even put in their backups and bat from the other side of the plate to avoid trying to run up the score.

Losing a game is never fun, but getting blown out is even harder on younger players. The rule prevents such occurrences and reduces the number of times a team scores substantially more runs than an inferior opponent.

Fewer Innings Helps Save Pitchers’ Arms

For the team on the winning side of a lopsided game, pitchers generally are throwing fewer pitchers, and starting pitchers are often removed to save their arms, and other pitchers can finish in a mop-up role. But what about the teams that are struggling in the field to get through an inning?

The wear and tear on the arms of the pitchers can be substantial in such games, particularly for younger pitchers whose arms aren’t built up for a large number of pitches. The 10 Run Rule will allow the game to end early, saving arms a substantial number of pitches had the rule not been implemented.

How About a Mercy Rule in MLB?

Major League Baseball has been talking for years about doing things to shorten the duration of games. One way to do so would be to implement the 10 Run Rule. However, there is currently no such rule. 

One reason for this is the players are professional, so there’s always a chance that the team on the short end can put together some offensive firepower to get back into the game. In addition, such blowout games are rarely seen, so the rule wouldn’t come into play often.

There is a Mercy Rule of sorts for games played in MLB Spring Training, but this has nothing to do with the score. The rule is to help pitchers from overworking their arms before the season starts. 

If a pitcher has thrown 20 are more pitches, he can choose to end the inning at that time. This has been used so rarely, but there was a case when Garrett Richards of the Boston Red Sox used it in 2021.

Yankees Manager Brett Boone Considers Mercy Rule for MLB

A few seasons ago Yankees manager drew some snickers when he brought up the possibility of a Mercy Rule in MLB. Boone mentioned problems with media questions that come up when a team already ahead by double-digit runs late in the game increase the lead with home runs. Those questions wouldn’t exist with a Mercy Rule in play.

There’s nothing worse than position players entering the game late in the game to save bullpen arms in a lopsided game. At the same time, should a professional batter just take pitches so as not to embarrass the other team? Boone didn’t have a problem with a late-inning home run for the White Sox against the Twins in a game this past season. Perhaps if a regular pitcher was in the contest, then rubbing salt into the wound would be another matter, but once the position player takes the mound, the game is basically an exhibition at that point, and anything goes.

Boone went on to say in May of this year that a mercy-rule option should be considered, which would take place after seven innings if a team is ahead by 10 or more runs. The question is whether or not that would solve the problem of navigating around the unwritten rules of not showing up another team by running up the score.

Not that Boone was, in fact, for a Mercy Rule, but it would eliminate a manager worried about being questioned about why they choose to steal when up eight runs. The idea then would be to get to the 10-run mark so the Mercy Rule would go into effect.

Major League Baseball has been messing with the traditional rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as starting extra innings with a runner on second base, seven-inning doubleheaders, universal designated hitter, etc. Having the Mercy Rule would be another way of tinkering with tradition.

Would it work, and is it worth it at the highest level?

Whatever the case may be, the 10 Run Rule has its appropriate place at the Little League and High School level to keep games moving, avoid embarrassment, and save the arms of young, developing pitchers.

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