The 2023 World Baseball Classic kicked into high gear on Saturday, with Pools C and D getting underway. (Team USA, who we're bearish on repeating as champions, will play tonight against Great Britain.) Most of the previous games had been played either late at night or early in the morning, meaning myriad American viewers got their first taste of extra-inning action this WBC when Colombia and Mexico required a 10th frame on Saturday afternoon. (Colombia, for those wondering, won a 5-4 thriller.)
If you were one of those individuals, you may have questioned why the zombie runner -- that is, the automatic runner placed on second base to begin extra innings -- was used. After all, other recent additions to Major League Baseball's rulebook, such as the pitch timer and defensive shifts restrictions, are not being employed this tournament. So, why was the Manfred man (so named after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred) in play?
The technical answer is straightforward: the WBC is being played in accordance with the 2022 Official Baseball Rules, with a few exceptions. For example, there are no limits on the number of mound visits each team takes. The less-technical answer is that international baseball settings have experimented with automatic runners far longer than they've been part of MLB. Indeed, the 2017 WBC toyed with having runners placed at first and second base beginning with the 11th inning. Having just one runner in extra innings this tournament, then, is actually a more conservative approach.
Leaning into the use of automatic runners is a sensible decision for international baseball settings. Bear in mind, WBC teams are restricted in how much they're allowed to use pitchers as a means of preventing injury and/or unnecessary wear and tear. Lengthy extra-inning games are undesirable in these settings, even if they also happen to be entertaining to watch.
The use of the automatic runner is an attempt to split the gap between a traditional conclusion to these games and a tie or otherwise gimmicky finish. Of course, whether or not it accomplishes that goal is up for debate, but the logic behind the implementation is sound enough.