If you are a baseball fan, you know that the pace of play has been a problem for a while. The MLB is well aware of the issue, and plenty of people have figured out the average duration of a regular season games.
But postseason games are especially bad. TV networks want to cash in on big audiences (more ads); there’s more pressure on every pitch (more resting / timeouts for pitchers); and fixed lineups for managers (more substitutes & relief pitchers).
I love baseball. And I couldn’t believe that my team (Atlanta!) actually made it to the World Series in 2021. But after Game 1 went past midnight for no real reason, I decided to figure out just *how* slow playoff games have gotten.
I manually pulled Game Duration data from all 681 World Series games. I pulled an average game length for each year’s series via Baseball-Reference.com, and dropped them into the graph above.
Two things stood out to me.
First, color television. You can really see in the late 1960s where games took off. TV networks don’t have an incentive to shorten games, especially in postseason play. More ads means more revenue.
Second, the way the game is played really matters. The game that is going on now (Game 2 of 2021 World Series) has the Atlanta Braves pitcher going on a 5 Inning No Hitter against the American League champions.
Pitchers are really good now. They are more accurate, smarter, and just better than they used to be. They know how to work the count. Managers are more willing to put in relievers early, so starters are fine running up their pitch count. More pitches = more time played.
Right now, as I type, Ian Anderson is throwing 5+ pitchers per batter…and then getting the strikeout.*
*Also note that there are so many time gaps that I’m crunching spreadsheets and writing a blog post while watching the game.
That creates an incentive for the hitter to guess the pitch and try to hit a home run instead of a base hit…which only adds to the more pitches / more strikeouts cycle.
Fast baseball = fewer pitches with more balls in play. Runners running bases. Infielders turning double plays.
I think that makes for more exciting baseball too.
But I’m also just a random fan with an opinion. Savvy statisticians and observers have written a lot about this issue. Here’s some of their interesting analysis.
- Sports Illustrated wrote about why the pace of play matters
- The Society for Baseball Research concludes that the “single biggest factor contributing to the longer games is the number of pitches.”
- SB Nation did a visual analysis of what’s going on
And here’s a Vox video from 2015 about the issue.
I still think that baseball is an incredible game. I’ll be watching it and listening to it the rest of my life.
But – for my kids, given the choice between a guaranteed 1 hour & 45 minute Atlanta United soccer game or a 3…or…4(?) hour Atlanta baseball game – they choose the soccer game every time.
There’s plenty of ideas for rule changes. I’m most interested in moving the mound back. Either way, I hope they find a solution.