It’s time for baseball to trim the fat off its games

Shortening games should be a simple straight forward exercise…

Presently, MLB operates like a well oiled machine.  When the Expos return it’ll be true perfection, am I right?! – Viewership is up, revenues were a nice $10 billion last year according to Forbes.  But while that’s all well and good, the games continue to take way too damn long!

I gotta say I’m rather shocked and surprised I’m writing about MLB game length in August 2017 — I, as much as the next guy, was convinced that whatever deep conversations were had to green light the “hold up 4 fingers” intentional walk rule would totally transform the game and solve the long-standing pace of play problem. *sarcasm*

Much to the surprise of no one, the rule has done next to nothing to shorten the average length of an MLB game, which so far this season stands at 3 hours and 9 minutes.

Compare that to the NBA’s 135 minute average (2 hours and 15 minutes), or the NHL average of 140 minutes (2 hours and 20 minutes), and you can see why people fall asleep during baseball broadcasts.  I  have left the NFL out because their average is roughly the same as baseball — but they own a day of the week and play a tenth of the games so that gives them a pass (pardon the pun) for purposes of this article.

Unless I’m watching Mel Gibson fight for freedom, I can’t in good conscience dedicate 3 hours and 9 minutes to anything.  Ok, add Frodo’s journey to destroy the ring but those movies didn’t need to be so long — WHY DIDN’T FRODO RIDE ONE OF THEM GIANT EAGLES TO THE VOLCANO AND JUST DROP IT IN?! That shit could’ve been over in  maybe an hour or two – it would’ve been a long flight to be fair.

Point is, a baseball game should not have the same run-time as a Lord of the Rings movie.

Game length has been rising incrementally over the past several seasons, with 2011 being the last season that saw a sub 3 hour average (2:56).  Before 2011, the last season that saw games average over 3 hours in length was 2000.

Sure, runs-per-game are slightly up but the correlation of runs and length doesn’t stack up when you consider that in 2000, the average runs-per-game was 10.28, 0.94 more than 2017, yet games were 9 minutes shorter.

Longer games were not the by-product of a meaningless 4 pitch scenario that periodically resulted in comical and unsuspecting outcomes (check out the links below this paragraph for some examples).  Intentional walks happen so infrequently that Manfred & Co. had to know tinkering with them would have little to no effect on ending games quicker. We were told the “4 finger approach”would speed up the game, eliminating the need for fans to have to block off entire afternoons and evenings to watch 9 inning games, contests filled with time-outs, mound visits, swapping of clean balls for ones blemished with a grain of dirt, and slow motion replays of bench coaches in-depth one minute conversations with video personnel trying to decide if Billy Hamilton’s foot came off the bag a micrometer — the latter of course is also aided by coach’s merely holding their hand up from the dugout to stop the game while replays are consulted.  Failing that, just ask your catcher or third baseman to go “talk” with the pitcher while you watch the other camera angles.  Take your sweet-a$$ time, not like the game isn’t slow enough as it is. 

You’ll be surprised to know that while I clearly believe replay is too long, it won’t even be a focal point of my time reduction proposal.  Not giving teams a full 30-seconds to decide whether or not to challenge would help, as would not taking up to 5 minutes to decide on a call when it is inevitably challenged.  But I digress and save my full collection of thoughts on instant replay for another time – who else is excited for the last two minutes of NBA games?!?!?!?!?!

Intentional Walks Gone Wrong

#1 – Miggy slashes a single

#2 Gary Sanchez hits sac fly on a borderline intentional walk attempt

#3 Compilation of some wild throws

While you can talk about instant replay being inefficient and also throw in that pitchers are being visited by coaches and catchers way more than should be allowed, public enemy no.1 in baseball’s heist of our time are the pitchers.

They have “help” with their delay tactics from the unnecessary drop by’s mentioned above, and from hitters who  take their sweet ass time, opting to tap dance in and out of the box between pitches — both of which I’ll touch upon later — pitchers themselves are taking longer to deliver the ball.

This is especially true of relief pitchers but let’s not point fingers or single guys out because that’s unfair.  Wait, it’s too late right?

Since 2007, the average time between pitches has increased by over 2 seconds per pitch – 21.5, up to today’s number of 23.8.  If you specifically examine relief pitchers, they deliver every 25.0 seconds on average.

Now, one could make the argument that because relief pitchers are often tasked with picking up the big steaming dump left by the starter, they can be pardoned for taking slightly more time to deal with tense situations but I disagree. You’ve already been watching the game for two hours… plenty of time to get yourself in the proverbial zone before you step on the mound.  Come in ready to pitch with some sort of rhythm.

Focusing on the starters who occupy the mound for the majority of games, the average time between pitch deliveries in 2017 stands at 23.0 seconds, up almost two seconds from 2015.  Yu Darvish can take up to 27 seconds on average between deliveries.  Even in the first inning when fatigue is not an excuse, pitchers routinely take between 18-20 seconds.  Are catchers fingers getting smaller? What’s the hold-up?

Among the MLB’s fastest workers is arguably its best pitcher, Chris Sale, who averages 20.5 seconds between his howitzers.  So it begs the question: If one of the best is able to dominate and doesn’t require a moment of prayer between each pitch, why can’t others?

It doesn’t make sense to continually allow pitchers to kill time and “compose themselves”, especially early in games when arms are fresh and times aren’t as tense compared to late-inning scenarios when one bad pitch can cause a city to run you out of town —PAUSE—Obligatory BAT FLIP (Where you at now Sam Dyson?!) — ok back to it…

Sharing blame with the pitchers are batters who, like most pitchers, are really in no hurry to do anything — they don’t even run out ground balls anymore.  That will forever irk me but I know I’m likely in the minority on that one so I’ll concede defeat.

What I know where I’m not in the minority is my belief that hitters don’t need to insist on loosening and tightening their batting gloves after every pitch (YOU DIDN’T EVEN SWING!!!!).  They don’t need to step out of the box after a pitch that was 3-feet outside (also known as a caught-the-corner strike if Angel Hernandez is behind home plate). Umpires not withstanding however, batters are spending far too much time abusing the one-foot-in-the-box rule.

MLB rules grant the pitcher a 12-second window to throw a pitch when the bases are empty…thing is that clock doesn’t start until the batter is in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher.  Gathering yourself, thinking happy thoughts, playing mind-games, checking out the babe in the first row — apart from the last instance, batters should be held to a higher standard when it comes to doing their part to speed up the game.  Step out, get your sign, take a couple quick breaths, then get back in there.

Why stand there and have a staring contest with the pitcher?

Hoping to channel your inner Three-Eyed-Raven to see his next pitch? (Yup, another Game of Thrones reference – why does it have to end?!?!?!).

It’s time baseball takes this issue seriously and starts instituting some appropriate measures.  A pitch clock that sees violators actually penalized.  The minors have had a 20-second pitch clock since 2015 and as younger players come up through the minor league systems, overall exposure as a percentage of MLB players will only rise.

Hypothetically, a 20-second pitch clock enforced properly could trim almost 4 seconds between pitches. Apply that across the 300 or so pitches thrown each game and you start to see some major results in terms of time reduction.

Limiting batters abilities to step in and out after pitches will help as well.  In both cases, violators could be subject to a warning, followed by the granting of a ball or strike, depending on the culprit.  Sounds awful, I know but if it sped the game up, which it would, it’s worth it.  Plus, players will adapt and game pace will pick up, until of course, new work arounds are discovered.  Isn’t innovation a wonderful thing?

Sticking with pitchers, cleaning up policies around mound visits? No more chats about how to pitch to a certain guy, or what to do in a given scenario — you all should’ve had these chats before the game!

Too many times, we are forced to watch pointless time-killing visits that serve no point, outside of giving a pitcher time to catch their breath while simultaneously giving a reliever extra time to get loose.  It gets to a point where even if the catcher opts to go out to “strategize”, the team should be forced to replace the pitcher…cue the relievers slow trot from the bullpen, followed by a sequence of warmup pitches — remind me again what were you doing in the bullpen? — So. Much. Waiting.

I love baseball.  It provides a full spring and summer’s entertainment and thrilling outcomes.  Playoff baseball is on another level – BAT FLIP!!!!!!! (the full at-bat version because why the rush? It’s baseball right?) *sigh*.  But even all our love for the game can’t justify the long drawn out games we as fans are being subjected to.

It’s not perfect.  Nothing ever will be (except Game of Thrones), but like anything, if it can be improved, then why not make some changes for the better? Baseball is alive and well – but it has a cold that just won’t go away and it’s time we give it some appropriate medicine.

And yes Ian Kinsler, Angel Hernandez does need to find other work.

Ciao for now,

JS

Information from Baseball Reference & FanGraphs was used in the telling of this compelling story

 

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