MLB Pace of Play

PaceMajor League Baseball is already touting that their rule changes have sped up games this season, but some ask whether there is a Pace of Play problem in Major League Baseball? It has been postulated that there is a significant problem which led to the implementation of new rules this year to attempt to help this out. However, there are players and others that have contended that there is no issue. I wanted to take a look at some data and see whether or not there are significant trends to look at. Note: I am primarily looking at this from the pitching perspective. There aren’t nearly enough metrics on batters to do any analysis.

Acknowledgements:

  • Commercial breaks add to game length more than ever before
  • More games are on TV than ever before, hence there are more commercial breaks per game
  • Attendance is not slumping even with game lengths purportedly growing

Overall Game Length

I researched game data since 1980 to try to pinpoint statistical shifts in the overall length of games. I’ll try to break this down in a few different ways. First will be the average length of baseball games by decade (Note: The 2010’s are only a 5-year sample instead of 10)

Average Game Time by Decade

  • 1980-1989: 2 Hours 44 Minutes
  • 1990-1999: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
  • 2000-2009: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
  • 2010-2014: 3 Hours 1 Minute

So game times, taken decade by decade, have increased by 17 minutes (10%) over the past 25 years. 17 minutes doesn’t sound huge, but 10% is a little more noticeable. If we just look at this trend you might contend that there is a problem, but perhaps not a large one. However, there is a statistic, from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which would indicate that this is quite bad for Major League Baseball. Just from 2000 to 2013 the average human attention span, which is defined as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted” has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. For context, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. So the average person watching an MLB game… SQUIRREL!!! See, you already lost them. This could indicate a significant problem for baseball. Now, let’s take it down a level so you may see more startling information.

Average Game Time by Year over the last Decade

  • 2005: 2 Hours 50 Minutes
  • 2006: 2 Hours 52 Minutes
  • 2007: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
  • 2008: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
  • 2009: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
  • 2010: 2 Hours 54 Minutes
  • 2011: 2 Hours 56 Minutes
  • 2012: 3 Hours
  • 2013: 3 Hours 4 Minutes
  • 2014: 3 Hours 8 Minutes

In the past 10 years, we have seen game times increase by 18 minutes (10.5%). This is a staggering uptick when you take the decade by decade numbers as a comparison. Clearly the brakes are being applied to games in ways not seen up to now. As I analyzed these numbers it also sparked a question regarding the extremes. Are we seeing more long games and fewer short games than in the past or is it just that average games are about 10% longer? Here’s what I found:

Games Lasting Under 2 Hours:

  • 1980’s: 300
  • 1990’s: 83
  • 2000’s: 102
  • 2010’s: 8

Games Lasting Over 4 Hours:

  • 1980’s: 322
  • 1990’s: 499
  • 2000’s: 503
  • 2010’s: 339

Yes. The extreme games have drastically shifted. What shocked me was that in 5 years we have had more 4+-hour games than took place in the entire decade of the 80’s. I would say that the numbers are strongly indicating a huge slow-down in the summer pastime during an era where stimulation is at an all-time high outside of the game.

National Spotlight

Some may view this section as picking on the boys out East, but I think the numbers are important for this discussion. It is very often that when the Yankees and Red Sox get together, they are featured on national television. It makes sense when you look at the ratings. However, this showcase actually skews the pace of play complaint even more. Here are Yankees vs. Red Sox game lengths by decade:

Yankees vs. Red Sox Game Length by Decade

  • 1980’s: 2 Hours 50 Minutes
  • 1990’s: 3 Hours 4 Minutes
  • 2000’s: 3 Hours 18 Minutes
  • 2010’s: 3 Hours 23 Minutes

This rivalry has always been on the long side of things, but you can see that with more games on national TV and game lengths being an additional 22 minutes (10.8%) longer than the league average, the perception of baseball’s length problem is even worse than the facts. (Editor’s Note: Granted, 19 inning affairs that last over 7 hours may not help these numbers either)

The Elite Time Managers

Clearly all of the numbers support the lengthening of the game, so the next question is, can any one person alter that? The answer is yes. I have long suspected that in the late 80’s through the early 2000’s, Greg Maddux was truly elite when it came to speeding up the game and then passed the torch to Mark Buehrle. I finally have been able to prove that this is, in fact, the case. Regardless of the league average, both of these men have been in the Top 10 fastest working pitchers since 1990. To avoid this exceeding the 10,000-word count threshold, I’ll just use Maddux as an example of how just the pitcher can make a significant impact on the length of a game. You will also notice that he was more efficient as a veteran. Here are his averages:

Greg Madduxbraves-maddux

Average Home Game Length by Decade

1980’s: 2 Hours 51 Minutes
1990’s: 2 Hours 37 Minutes
2000’s: 2 Hours 40 Minutes

Average Home Game Length

Wins: 2 Hours 29 Minutes
Losses: 2 Hours 40 Minutes
No Decisions: 3 Hours 2 Minutes

Average Road Game Length by Decade

1980’s: 2 Hours 47 Minutes
1990’s: 2 Hours 39 Minutes
2000’s: 3 Hours 8 Minutes

Average Road Game Length

Wins: 2 Hours 38 Minutes
Losses: 2 Hours 33 Minutes
No Decisions: 3 Hours 8 Minutes

Summation

I’m not here to try to postulate more solutions to this problem. All I wanted to do is help settle the debate that there has in fact been a growing problem that needs to be addressed. And despite what Rex Hudler thinks, it will take a lot more than just having spare bats ready for the bat boys to bring to you when you break.

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