Baseball wants to be more like hockey and less like curling. Yet things aren’t working out so well. The average MLB game time went up to a record 3 hours and 5 minutes last season, and frankly I was surprised that number wasn’t significantly higher.
There were some absolutely painful extra inning games last year, including the 19 inning marathon between the Blue Jays and Red Sox with a final, riveting score of…3-2.
There was the 18 inning K-fest between the Cubs and Yankees in May which included a record 48 strikeouts, including the first 10 hitters of extra innings.
Then came the World Series. Game 1 was the quickest World Series game since 1992 at 2 hours, 28 minutes thanks to good Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel. Game 5 though admittedly one of the best World Series games of my lifetime, clocked in at 5 hours and 17 minutes which was good for the second longest World Series game in history!
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has long made one of his key initiatives to make the game more entertaining to younger fans. Baseball is unique in that all of the action is right in front of you. You aren’t watching receivers lining up and defensive positioning like in football, or the other players on a basketball court: it is pitcher versus hitter. It is that sphere that Manfred is focusing on and that sphere that needs to change.
Travis Sawchik has a great article up at Fangraphs about the situation – and points out that MLB needs to make sure they are focusing on the right issues. It is the pace of play, not the stoppages. For example, the only rule that really came through after much drama was about limiting the number of mound visits. Thanks for those two minutes. However, as far as getting to that point, only 4 pitchers of the 462 pitchers who threw at least 30 innings last season did so in less than 20 seconds between pitches!
Sawchik points out the time between pitches – which don’t forget might get fouled off with two strikes and not even count – went up over half a second last season to nearly 25 seconds. Half a minute for a meaningless foul ball. Or ball one, ball two, strike two…all pitches that REQUIRE a next pitch! With strikeouts being a record last season (remember those 48 by the Yankees/Cubs?) that is the biggest problem to pace of play and at the least getting to those outcomes faster.
Here is a chart that should open some eyes showing the growth of inactivity between starting and relief pitchers.
Not the way things should be going. While hitters can be just as guilty of time wasting between pitches – somehow players need to work this out themselves I think. In 2015 MLB introduced minor monetary fines for batters stepping out of the box – and it worked. The following year though? Players didn’t care anymore, umpires didn’t care, and here we are. I had a few ideas about this last year which MLB has still not heeded, including creating a stat that shows everyone how fast or slow pitchers/hitters are between “ready” positions.
Baseball doesn’t like dramatic change. Okay, I get it. So far we’ve eliminated the intentional walk and now mound visits. Yet players who spend an extra two seconds between pitches now or a pitcher/catcher struggling to get on the same page with no mound visits easily negates any gains that were made.
I do not have all the answers. Clearly, Major League Baseball and Rob Manfred do not easier. Yet more information is always a good thing, and great analysts/writers like Sawchik are certainly a step in the right direction.