What Needs to be Done to Shorten and Quicken the Pace of MLB Baseball Games

What MLB needs to do to shorten baseball games and quicken pace of play

In 1987 the average length of a baseball game was 2:52
In 2017 it was 3:08
Games were 16 minutes longer on average.
But that is not the only problem. MLB baseball Games were also “slower” for the fans. There was less action, less balls in play, so the game seems slower.

So what are the major differences between MLB today and the game of baseball 30 years ago?

#1 – How deep starters go in a game and the “bullpenning” revolution. (I blame that on Tony La Russa)
#2 – The “launch angle revolution”.
Some call it the 3 True Outcomes revolution. Players are hitting more HRs, striking out, and walking much more than they did in 1987. Strikeouts and Walks take more pitches per PA.
They also are boring for the casual fans who would much rather see the ball in play.

So that boils down to two problems in MLB today 

Number of pitching changes per game
Pitches per PA
Greg Amsinger said in a recent MLB Tonight that we saw 4.3 pitchers per team per game in 2017.
In 1987 there were only 2.4 pitchers used per team per game.That is nearly 2 extra pitchers per game PER TEAM! 

There is no doubt that the game of baseball has changed.

In 1987, in only 3.7% of games did we see the starting pitcher go 5 innings or less, not including for injuries. About 6 games per season per team.
Last season, in 21% of games we saw the starting pitcher go 5 innings or less, not including for injuries. About 34 games per season per team.
If the starting pitcher eats up fewer innings you are guaranteed to see more pitching changes and pitching changes take time. 

In 1987 there were 47 guys that went over 200 innings and the league leader, Roger Clemens, had 285.1 IP and 18 CG in 36 starts. That year, 36 guys had more CG than the 5 CG by the league leaders in 2017. Chris Sale the most innings pitched in 2017 at 214.1 and Kluber and Santana were the leaders in CG at 5.

MLB-wide in 1987 there were 562 CG pitched. Over 18 CG per team. 255 pitchers took the mound to start a game, so that is 2.20 CG per starting pitcher.

In 2017 the total number of CG pitched in MLB was 59. Not even 2 CG per TEAM last season

Some other pitcher has to pick up those innings that starters used to pitch through. Bringing in a relief pitcher takes time. Over 3 minutes on average from the time the manager comes in to remove the starter until the 1st pitch is thrown by the reliever.

Think about that. 4 extra pitchers per game. At 3 minutes per pitching change.

That is 12 minutes extra per game.

Why is the number of Pitches per PA a problem? 

1st let’s look at the numbers1987 – 25,019 SO
2017 – 40,104 SO

So far this season we have seen 52 more SO than Hits. The strikeout percentage is up more than a full point from 21.6% to 22.7%1987 – 14,389 BB
2017 – 15,829 BB

So far this season the walk percentage is up from 8.5% last season to 8.9% now.
More strikeouts and more walks means more pitches have to be thrown each plate appearance. So what do the numbers say?
1987 – 598,661 pitches thrown – 3.23 per PA
2017 – 721,279 pitches thrown – 3.90 per PA
So far this season we have seen 3.94 pitches per PAThat is 122,618 more pitches thrown in 2017 than in 1987 and that number is growing.

So how long did it take to make those extra 122 thousand pitches?

We don’t have complete records of time between pitches thrown in 1987, but from televised games, we saw a 21-second average. In 2017 the time between pitches was 21 seconds. No appreciable difference there.So how much more time did the extra pitches take?

40,872 minutes longer. There are 4860 games in a baseball season

That is 8:20 minutes longer per game. 

Between those 2 issues, the average MLB game has gotten 20 minutes longer in the past 30 years.

Wait a minute!! The total increase in the length of the average game was 16 minutes and these two things increased the length 20 minutes?

Yes. The game has gotten much faster in other areas. The average amount of break between sides of an inning has reduced 4:12 per game since 1987.

So what should MLB about these things that are adding length and slower pace of play to baseball games?

#1 – 3 timeouts per game. A manager can use that as an extra mound visit or for an in inning pitching change. If you change pitchers between innings, then no extra time is added to the game and so you don’t have to use a timeout.
Not much in baseball is more boring to the casual fan than a break in the middle of the inning that is as long or longer than the time between innings.#2 – Enforce the upper end of the strike zone. According to Pitch Info, 17% more borderline pitches up were called balls than borderline inside, outside, or low in the strike zone.

The slight uppercut swing that is part of the “launch angle revolution” batting style is nullified by high heat. Batters pop up the ball or have a swinging strike on a pitch up or above the zone if you have an uppercut swing. Even a slight uppercut.

So if the pitch high in the zone is called more often, people will not be able to lay off that pitch and wait for a pitch lower in the zone.  Strikeouts and pop up outs will increase for power hitters. Eventually, they will have to adjust and start putting the ball in play more. Fewer fly balls and more LD and GB. Which will make the game more exciting for the casual fans.

What Else Can Be Done to Improve the Fan Experience?

The problem? More than half of plate appearances do not result in a ball in play. That is BORING. The game seems longer when there is less action.
In today’s game, with the “launch angle revolution” and the exaggerated shifts, according to Rich Eisen plate we saw more walks, strikeouts, HBP, and foul ball outs than balls in play last season.  That is also true so far this season. (Home runs are not balls in play.)
Eisen’s solution is to get rid of the shift. If you are a SS or 3B you have to stay on the left of 2B to start a play. If you are a 2B you have to stay to the right of 2B to start the play.
This would end the type of plays we see that are easy outs because there are 3 infielders on one side of the 2B bag. Games would go faster.

What Do You Think? 

Presenting the problems and giving my opinion is one thing, but the game is one that is FOR the fans. If you are reading this you are a fan. What changes would you like to see happen? Would you like the game to stay the way it is? What are your thoughts on this issue?

Thanks to Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com for much of the data used in this article. Here are a couple of links.




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