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A Way Too Early Look at 2015 MLB Pace of Play and Game Times


After rumblings over the last few years about what to do about pace of play and game times in baseball, Rob Manfred has made pace of play one of his priorities in the first few months of his tenure as Commissioner (hopefully this will continue to be more of a priority than his misguided thoughts on banning shifts).  While some players clearly were not happy with the specifics in how this might be achieved, most baseball fans and even some players agree that a 2-1 baseball game should not take more than three hours to complete.

Pace of play and game times are issues that have been addressed before on these pages.  While they are not the same thing, they are certainly related.  Pace of play refers to how quickly the game moves along, and we’ve looked at it before from a perspective of pitches per minute. The more pitches per minute, the faster the game moves.  A high scoring game that takes a long time can still have a relatively quick pace of play, however the more pitching changes, runners on base, foul balls, etc. that a game contains the more likely it is that the pace of play slows down.

Now that we have all of 1/162 of the season behind us, now’s as good a time as any to take a look at games times and pace of play from all Opening Day games from 2014 and 2015.  The games in 2014 do not include the two games between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in Australia a week before all other teams started playing and instead include all teams’ first game (one took place on March 30, thirteen took place on March 31, and one took place on April 1). The games in 2015 include the one game on April 5, and all fourteen on April 6.

First Game for All Teams, 2014 and 2015

 

2014*

2015*

Average Game Time

3:06

2:49

Pitches per Minute

1.47

1.60

Runs per Game

8.5

6.5

Average Total Pitches

292

269 

*Two games in 2014 lasted ten innings and all others lasted nine innings. All games in 2015 lasted nine innings.

Have enough games been played to draw any firm conclusions?  Of course not. At the same time, there are some significant changes here.  The two most important figures below point in the direction of faster moving games. The average Opening Day game for all teams took a whopping 17 fewer minutes in 2015 than in 2014. Perhaps even more importantly, the games moved along at a much quicker pace as well, as there were 1.60 pitches per minute in 2015 compared to 1.47 in 2014.  This doesn’t sound like much, though for a game with 269 pitches (the average number of total pitches in all 15 games above in 2015) it would take 3:03 to complete, instead of the 2:49 we’ve seen so far in 2015. The runs per game is way down, which is likely a fluke (though if it isn’t it raises even more important questions of whether baseball should be more concerned than it already is about a decreased offensive environment).

Again, hopefully no one in the Commissioner’s office is breaking out the champagne quite yet for overcoming one of baseball’s biggest problems in a single offseason, but the early results are looking very good. Apparently even those who were against the new rule to keep a foot in the batting box following most pitches are compliant after a single game.

While game times have been creeping up for years, pace of play has become a problem more recently (though those who watched many games between the Yankees and Red Sox, particularly in the early 2000s, would attest otherwise).  As we looked at back in 2013, American League games had a pace of play of 1.69 pitches per minute in 2009, which dropped to 1.60 in 2013.  Given that run scoring also continued to go down over this time period we would have otherwise expected pace of play to actually pick up a little bit.

Again, it can be difficult to imagine what that impact would be over a full game, but consistently reducing the amount of time between each pitch, even one or two seconds, can have an impact on the pace of the entire game.  While many in baseball probably don’t actually want to see a pitch clock introduced to thirty baseball stadiums this year or any time in the future, if baseball can continue to police itself and encourage players to keep things moving baseball will be more enjoyable for players and fans alike.

 



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