One of the links in Josh's MLB Bullets this morning intrigued me. You can probably guess which one -- this one, from fivethirtyeight.com, on the ever-lengthening pace and time of major-league games.
This is particularly, uh, timely in the case of the Cubs, who played a dreadfully long three-hour, 50-minute nine-inning game against the Reds Sunday. There was a fair amount of action: 26 hits, nine walks and 10 runs. 369 total pitches were thrown (190 by Cubs pitchers, 179 by Cincinnati hurlers). Still, the pace of the game was dreadful.
The Cubs, according to the article, are one of the faster-paced teams in baseball, only adding 2.2 minutes above the "fastest-paced" team, listed in the article as the Athletics. The data in the article is from 2002-2014, but Cubs games definitely seem to be getting longer over the last couple of years.
Here, from the article, is the solution:
Major League Baseball has a rule to keep the game humming along: Official Rule 8.04, which gives the pitcher 12 seconds to pitch when no one’s on base. It’s rarely enforced — about 15 to 20 times in 2009.
15 to 20 times in an entire season. In 2009, 717,042 pitches were thrown -- 15 to 20 times is an infinitesimal percentage.
So let's look at some other numbers. The rule states that pitchers have 12 seconds to throw when the bases are empty. The fivethirtyeight article states:
The average break between pitches was 21.6 seconds three years ago, 22.1 seconds two years ago and 22.6 seconds last year, according to FanGraphs. Taking into account the number of pitches per game, the slowing pace could account for five of the eight minutes tacked on to the average game between 2011 and 2013.
In 2013, there were 3.83 pitches per plate appearance for the entire season. (Even this number is creeping up; 10 years ago in 2003, this number was 3.73.
More 2013 numbers: last year, about 56.5 percent of plate appearances came with no one on base. If you could drop that average 22.6 seconds for those plate appearances to 12 seconds each, knocking 10.6 seconds off of all pitches made with the bases empty, that would come to (approximately) 430 seconds, on average, per game -- a little more than seven minutes, just about all of the eight minutes the fivethirtyeight article notes have been added over the last couple of years.
Part of baseball's charm is that there is no clock. As long as you have outs left, you can theoretically overcome any deficit and win. And that's great. But that doesn't mean that players should step out of the box on every pitch, mess around with their batting gloves, walk around, adjust their helmets, etc... it's tiresome. Watch a video of any game from the 1970s and the first thing you notice is how much faster-paced the games are. Pitches get thrown, if not put in play the ball is returned, the batter stands in, and the next pitch is thrown.
If that means a 12-second clock has to be installed at big-league stadiums to enforce the rule that's already on the books, so be it. Nine-inning games shouldn't take three hours and 50 minutes to complete.