The increase in game length has received plenty of attention, and there are numerous factors -- time between pitches, number of pitchers used in games, televised games, replay, even the increase in the number of playoff slots that makes each game more valuable. The Arizona Fall League announced it will institute new rules to speed up play this winter:
|Keep one foot in batter's box at all times|
|No-pitch intentional walks|
|20 seconds between pitches|
|2:05 between innings|
|2:30 for pitching changes|
|Three non-pitching change mound visits per game|
We can very safely state that after the wild pitch thrown by Aaron Bennett while attempting to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval in Game 4 of the Giants-Nationals series, the called intentional walk will probably not occur at the Major League level. The other rules, if strictly enforced, can have a positive effect in keeping the games moving. It's necessary, as the average game length continues to creep up:
There's been an increase of around nine minutes per game since 2011, despite all the hand-wringing and hot air to do something to quicken the pace.
Postseason games are even longer:
As the caption states, this only includes 9-inning games, and even though there are far smaller sample sizes (prior to 1969, there were years with only four games, of course), there are major differences. 2014 saw an average nine-inning game length of 3:02, and so far in the playoffs this year the average nine-inning game is 3:31, a full 29 minutes longer. Add in the extra-inning games and this year's postseason games are averaging 3:49 -- almost four hours. It's also apparent this gap wasn't always the case but started in earnest around 1980.
Why does this matter? This is the time of the season when audiences return to baseball, and when the decision is made to play almost every non-weekend game at night, the formula for games ending at midnight or later on the East Coast is created.
I was tweeting these charts out in various forms on Tuesday to a pretty engaged audience. I received a response from High Heat Stats, one of Sporting News 200 must-follows for the postseason (as is Beyond the Box Score, but you already knew that). He suggested I check correlations between things like the increase in strikeouts or pitches per plate appearance, but no individual category amounted to much more than a blob.
FanGraphs/BeerGraphs guy Eno Sarris (also on the Sporting News list) suggested:
Eno wrote the article referenced in the tweet, suggesting longer games allows for players to tighten up and increase the potential for injury, and the players he talked to made it clear they weren't fans of the slower pace of games. On a side note, if there's ever a FanGraphs/BeerGraphs meet-up in your area and Eno is one of the hosts, go -- he's good at picking up tabs.
There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal hypothesizing that increased game length could be attributed to the lower run environment. This creates the terrible combination of low-scoring and long-lasting. At least in the 1990s people argued that the explosion in offense made games last longer, but that excuse has been gone since 2007. Now, as times between pitches stretches to 30 seconds and 9-inning games in which seven or eight pitches are used increase, baseball appears to be driving its audience away.
This year's postseason ratings are a mixed bag, with some increases and some decreases. Putting all the games on cable creates confusion between percentage increase in viewership and absolute numbers. The most-watched game through the League Division Series was the Wild Card game between the Giants and Pirates, around 5.6 million viewers, a viewership that would get a show canceled on network TV -- quickly.
If games are going to start at 8:30 pm on the East Coast, there has to be a way to keep them moving that won't inhibit advertising. It will be crucial for the growth of the sport as the average age for the World Series viewer is getting grayer every year, and games that creep ever closer to the four-hour mark for a nine-inning game do nothing to reverse this trend and grow the audience. This Wall Street Journal article details in excruciating agony how time is spent during baseball games -- around 18 minutes is action, and the rest . . . isn't. For baseball to continue to be relevant, particularly during it's postseason showcase, it has to be played at a faster pace, especially when the slowdown is doing nothing to improve the quality of the game.
And get rid of the incessant spitting as well.
All data from Baseball-Reference.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.