MLB Problem is Pace, Not Length

Barry Petchesky of Deadspin on MLB’s attempts to speed up the game:

The 79 nine-inning games so far this year have averaged 2:54:39, down from 3:02:25 in 2014. That’s a huge difference! And before you discount the numbers after one week, ESPN notes that the final 2014 game length came in just four seconds off its first-week average.

8 minutes is a decent start, right? Thinking through this mathematically, there are 27 outs for each team per team (most of the time), and according to ESPN.com an average of about 8 hits per team per game, plus another 3 walks or so. That adds up to around 75 batters per game on average. Dividing out 8 minutes means that this saves about 6.4 seconds per batter. That isn’t a ton to get excited about when sometimes there are more than 30 seconds between pitches. But that isn’t even where time is being saved. Petchesky continues:

It’s this last change that seems to have had the biggest impact. Ballpark countdown timers, set to 2:25 for locally televised game, signal the time left before the return from commercial breaks, and batters and pitchers are encouraged to be ready to go when the countdown hits 20 seconds. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed a lot more broadcasts returning with an immediate first pitch, rather than with the batter still strolling to the plate.

So most of the time being saved is after commercial breaks. That is helpful while at the ballpark, but most people watching at home are either fast forwarding through commercials and the extra time after, or probably going and doing something else during this time (bathroom, food, iPad, etc.). This is particularly alarming because the problem being address was pace of play, not length of game. Shaving 8 minutes off doesn’t help if it’s imperceptible.

Most of the White Sox games I have watched don’t feel the slightest bit faster paced. In fact as I type this I just saw Jose Quintana take 17 seconds in between pitches. Six seconds per at-bat is nothing, even if that is how time was being saved. Until the time between pitches is cut down significantly, the game will continue to feel as slow as it has for a while.

This “bean counter” statistic is nice for MLB and the media to spin “improvements”, but don’t be fooled, the pace is the same, slow.