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MLB's Pace Of Game Tests In The Arizona Fall League

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How are things going with speeding up the game in the AFL? Quite well, actually.

Yasiel Puig runs fast. But he is one of the biggest culprits in why game pace is so slow
Yasiel Puig runs fast. But he is one of the biggest culprits in why game pace is so slow
USA TODAY Sports

Yes, here's another article on the pace of major-league baseball games. This one's here because there's actually some data now available from the Arizona Fall League, where they are testing out a pitch clock and other ways of speeding up games, which have become quite slow-paced lately:

The time of an average game has increased from 2 hours, 23 minutes in 1950 to 2:33 in 1981 to more than three hours this season. The first three games of the World Series took 3:32, 3:25 and 3:15. According to Nielsen Media Research, Game 1 television ratings set a record low for the second time in three seasons and declined as the game went on, though that corresponded with a growing San Francisco Giants lead.

More troublesome than the length of games is the slower pace of play. Since teams averaged 5.14 runs per game in 2000, which came at the height of the steroid era and was the highest total in the live-ball era since 1936, scoring has declined, settling at 4.07 runs per game this year. Strikeouts steadily have increased for the entire previous century and especially in the past 10 seasons.

Here's some data from recent regular-season performances, according to the article, from the PitchF/X system that's now in every ballpark:

Some pitchers, such as the Toronto Blue Jays' Mark Buehrle and Washington Nationals' Doug Fister , motor along, averaging around 18 seconds between pitches -- the quickest pace among qualified starters this year. Others take longer: The Pirates' Edinson Volquez, for example, averaged 25.3 seconds between pitches, the fourth-slowest time this year.

Batters are guilty, too: Hanley Ramirez's major league-leading 28.1 seconds between pitches and Yasiel Puig's 26.7 seconds, tied for third, contributed to Los Angeles Dodgers games averaging 3:14 this season.

I definitely noticed that slow pace of Dodger play when they were in Chicago for that four-game series at Wrigley Field in September. The four games -- none of which went into extra innings -- ran 3:53, 3:31, 3:44 and 3:45. They were the third-, fifth-, seventh- and 11th-slowest nine-inning games of the Cubs' 2014 season; the Dodgers actually had three other nine-inning games longer than those four.

Enough already, I say. Here are the things they're looking at in AFL games:

The most drastic measure is the pitch clock, which requires pitchers to deliver the ball within 20 seconds or receive an automatic ball. This is an extension of Rule 8.04, which directs pitchers to throw the ball within 12 seconds of receiving it from the catcher when the bases are empty. It is almost never enforced.

Batters must keep at least one foot in the batter's box during their at-bat, with certain exceptions.

Pitchers have to deliver the first pitch of an inning within 2 minutes, 5 seconds after the end of the previous inning -- pitchers are docked a ball if they don't, while batters who aren't in the box by 1:45 receive an automatic strike -- and a pitching change can take no longer than 2:30. Teams are also limited to three timeouts and can issue an intentional walk merely by saying so rather than throwing four intentional balls.

I'm not in favor of the intentional-walk thing; as we saw during this year's playoffs, things can happen during intentional walks. That one, I hope they leave alone. Several players quoted in the article had different views of the changes. Some said they didn't make much difference, though a couple of pitchers were caught with that "first pitch" rule. Regarding the pitch clocks, quoting Pirates prospect Josh Bell:

The rules are enforced at Salt River Fields, the only AFL ballpark outfitted with the clocks. Five digital clocks -- two in each dugout, two behind home plate and one on the wall in left-center field -- counted down the various times. The mere presence of the clocks altered play, Bell said: The clocks behind home plate, offset so as not to distract the pitcher, lined up with the first and third basemen's view of the strike zone.

"So you're looking at 20, 19, you're trying to pick up the ball, the lights are flashing right behind," he said. "It's definitely a little bit different."

These changes absolutely have made a difference in game length:

Through Friday, nine-inning games under the new rules averaged 2 hours, 20 minutes, while nine-inning games elsewhere averaged 2:49. The average fall league game took 2:51 in 2013.

The things they are trying out in the AFL are all experimental. Whether any or all of them will be used in major-league regular-season games is still to be determined, though, as noted, some of them are simply giving more strict enforcement to rules already on the books. Cutting 29 minutes off the average length of a game is significant, though obviously this is a very small sample size. I'd be happy if they could knock 10 or 15 minutes off the pace of games; it's not necessarily the length that's the problem, but the pacing, with hitters constantly stepping in and out of the batter's box. The article quotes Commissioner Bud Selig:

"I'm aggravated," he said. "Let me give you my pet example: Player comes to the plate, ball one. Now he gets out of the box and he's adjusting all his equipment. What the hell? He hasn't swung. What is he adjusting?"

You might not be a fan of Selig, but he's right. Let's start there, at the very least.