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Surprise! Only Substantial Change Will Make Baseball Games Shorter

The pace of play debate will only intensify after this year's playoffs.

By Owen McGrattanPublished 5 years ago 3 min read
(Alejah Fajardo SFBay)

(Data via Baseball-Reference.com)

Yes, baseball games are getting longer.

What that means to a non-casual baseball fan like me is nothing, really. But, it matters to MLB and the people who call the shots because they think it will continue to hurt baseball's popularity in the future. The pace of play debate has been around for a few years now and MLB hasn't been afraid to experiment and implement different rules.

Notably, this last offseason, it was eliminating pitchers from having to throw four pitches for an intentional walk. Recently, there was the implementation of the between innings timer, the 2:25 clock to shorten the breaks in-between innings and pitching changes. Neither of those have done much to speed games up.

Average Game Time

(Data via Baseball-Reference.com)

2017 has set the record for average game time at 3 hours and 8 minutes and has also set the record average for nine-inning games at 3 hours and 5 minutes.

Of course, this isn't something random. 2017 has set highs in a number of other categories.

Pitchers/G (for Each Team)

(Data via Baseball-Reference.com)

Teams used more pitchers on average than they ever have before. This isn't a clear connection for why games are longer, but it's a strong reason. There are situations where teams seamlessly transition to other pitchers at the beginning of innings, but this is something that is uncommon and will become more uncommon with an inevitable increase of specialists in the bullpen.

Pitching changes take time, but offense is a part of this too.

Runs Per Game

(Data via Baseball-Reference.com)

More home runs, more runs, longer games. Over the past few years, we've come upon an offensive spike, in part due to change in hitting philosophy, and of course due to a juiced ball that seems to be flying farther.

The current run scoring environment is nothing extreme (besides the home runs), but paired with the record number of pitchers used per game, you have the game times that we see today.

Pitchers used per game and runs scored per game make up 87 percent of the variance (R^2=0.875) in average time of game.

I would be wrong to neglect Replay Reviews when talking about pace of play. We know how long they feel as they disrupt the flow of the game, but I ultimately believe it has been wonderful for the sport. The implementation of the 30-second rule requiring managers to make a decision has been great as well, but reviews can still take long stretches of time.

The good news? There were fewer reviews this year (1182 vs. 1292)! The bad news? Baseball games did not shorten any.

I truly hope MLB does not employ a pitch clock. I frankly don't think they've done enough research on how much time a pitcher needs between pitches to properly recover. Just take it from the founder of Driveline Baseball and one of the foremost experts in pitcher health, Kyle Boddy.

The last thing the game needs to do is injure its talent to try and shorten baseball games. With guys throwing harder and harder, it's hard to imagine that forcing guys to move about this quickly will do any good. We are still seeing what feels to be a high number of arm injuries and this would make things far worse.

If baseball really wants to make constructive change on this issue, it'll have to come in the form of a substantial rule change that limits pitching changes. I don't consider myself a purist, but seeing a change in this area would just feel wrong and stupid. Baseball's popularity has nothing to do with how many pitching changes occur and the casual fan doesn't even care about this sort of thing.

But, as the playoffs bring baseball into more of a national spotlight and with the very bullpen-heavy nature of the playoffs, many will continue to bring up how long these games are. The NL Wild Card game lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes; the AL Wild Card game went 3 hours and 51 minutes with none of the starters making through the fourth inning in either game. It can be concerning to those who are focused on this debate.

But, if you watched either of the games, I don't think you need a reminder that baseball is still fun.

If MLB wants to make an advance on this pace of play issue, it'll take significant change in either the time between pitching substitutions or in how managers are allowed to use relief pitchers themselves. But anyone who has been watching baseball knows that this is as good as it has ever been. Pace of play is not the issue.


About the Creator

Owen McGrattan

Writer @ The Unbalanced (@ItheunbalancedI).

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