Thirty years ago the average baseball game was just over two-and-a-half hours long. According to STATS LLC, the lowest average game time last year could be found at Safeco Field in Seattle – where the Mariners averaged 2:45 per game. Most teams eclipsed the 2:50 mark, and four teams averaged over three hours a game.
There’s a variety of reasons for this increase in game length. Some of these reasons there’s nothing we can do much about. Increased interest in sabermetrics has led to more defensive shifts, specialized bullpen use and pitching around certain hitters. The importance of the walk (being just as good as a hit) has allowed batters to take more pitches in each at bat – leading to an increase in pitches thrown. All of these add a bit of time to each game and none of them are going away any time soon.
Major League Baseball can’t limit the number of pitching changes, the position of the fielders, or the number of throws to first base, but there are possible changes that if implemented would decrease game times and make the game more engaging.
10. Enforce the Pitching Clock
This idea has gained in popularity in recent years. It’s estimated that each pitch takes about 20 seconds. Major League Baseball actually has a rule that governs this (rule #8.03 and 8.04) which dictates that the pitcher should deliver the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied. Enforcing this rule forces some of the slower pitchers in the game to work faster. Decreasing the time between pitches will reduce this dead ball time. However, this plan doesn’t work without also speeding up the pre-batting antics of some hitters.
9. Stepping out of the Batter’s Box
Once a batter steps into the batter box he’s a live batter until he calls time. Yet all of us have seen the endless parade of stepping into the box, taking a pitch, stepping out, adjusting several articles of clothing, getting a sign, digging back into the same hole you were just standing in, then reading for another pitch – and God forbid the pitcher take too long to throw it, because then the batter calls time and the process repeats.
Once a batter steps into the box and is ready he shouldn’t be allowed to step out without calling time. If pitchers need to be on a clock, it’s not unreasonable for batters to assume some responsibility as well. Time is then granted (or not) by the umpire. If the batter wants to step back out that’s fine, but the pitcher should be allowed to fire away.
Various studies have indicated that anywhere from 14 to 18 minutes is “wasted” per game between pitches. Increasing the pace of the pitcher and not allowing the batter to dictate the pace with these silly rituals is a great start.
8. Reduce the Number of Trips to the Mound by the Catcher
Right now there is no rule preventing a catcher from venturing out to the mound after every pitch, should he choose. While this is a bit dramatic, there are a number of egregious abusers of this rule. Managers in particular sometimes send their catchers out after a batter or two to allow for more time for their reliever to warm up. Two trips should equal one pitching coach or manager trip. Since a pitching change has to be made after the second trip from the dugout, this would reduce the number of trips out to pitchers by catchers.
7. Enforce the Strike Zone – Particularly the High Strike
This has been an ongoing battle for several years. A smaller strike zone allows batters to be especially frugal with their swings. Enforce the strike zone, which, according to the MLB rules is, “That area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the top of the knee,” and batters will swing earlier and more frequently. This means more balls in play, which is far more entertaining for fans than a strikeout or walk. In particular the high strike seems to have disappeared completely in the last twenty years.
6. Hold Everyone Accountable
Starting this year in the independent Atlantic League, any game which goes over two-hours and forty-five minutes requires a written report by the umpires, the managers, and the official scorer explaining why it took so long. Start holding the decision makers accountable for what is transpiring on the field and maybe we will see some changes. It should also be noted that several of these other ideas (the pitching time clock and stepping out of the box) have also been implemented in the Atlantic League this year. The result? The average game time is down to 2:54 so far – and that includes extra-inning games. It’s a 25 minute improvement over last year.
5. Hold the Umpire Accountable
Umpires have been somewhat above the law for a long time. Their union is powerful and extremely resistant to chance. Dislodging an umpire is a difficult (if not impossible) task. Start holding umpires accountable for managing the strike zone and keeping batters in the box. If they are unable to do this then fine them or demote them. No one controls the pace of a game more than an umpire. The umpires have the right to call balls and strikes for pitchers or batters who are not keeping up. They should use it more.
4. Reduce or Eliminate some of those TV Timeouts
This one won’t happen, but it should. Do we need a TV timeout every single time there is a pitching change in the middle of an inning? We already enjoy a set of commercials after every three outs. Adding in more for a pitching change doesn’t help. Of course, anything that takes money out of the owner’s pockets is probably off limits. Some might cry foul, arguing that relievers use this time to throw a few warm up pitches on the mound, but do we really need that…?
3. Limit Reliever Warm-Up Pitches
Question: What did the reliever just spend the last five minutes in the bullpen doing before he came into the game? Answer: Throwing warm-up pitches to loosen up. So when he finally reaches the mound he shouldn’t need more than five pitches to get his bearings. Give him five. The time it takes the reliever to walk from the pen and throw five pitches should be enough time to throw a couple of commercials our way.
2. Eliminate the Stupidity of the Intentional Walk
If a pitcher wants to intentionally walk a batter that’s fine, but do we really need to see two grown men play catch for four pitches? While this is a minor quibble and won’t affect most games, let’s all agree the guy can take first and call it a walk in the books and be done with it.
1. Call Balks
Again, a minor quibble, but one of the biggest complaints from casual fans is that the “pitcher throws to first all the time!” It slows down the game, especially when a certain former player named Pettite is on the mound. But guess what? A lot of throws are actually balks. If umpires called the balk correctly it might lessen the number of throws to first base, which will speed up the game. In addition, it might lead to more stolen bases, which also adds back in more excitement.
Speeding up the pace of play is better for everyone. Fans and players stay engaged. More batted balls in play lead to more spectacular things, like hits and errors. More importantly, baseball is losing legions of fans each year. Pick up the pace of the game and just maybe some of those fans who turn off the game at 10 PM when it’s in the sixth inning will hang around to see how it ends.