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A Quick Look at Pace of the Game

Baseball adopted a rule change to remove the throws in an intentional walk and just automatically send the batter to first base. This is an attempt by MLB to quicken up the pace of the game, though the IBI's Richard Forderaro wonders if some other ideas may be better served in shortening the games...

Say goodbye to the intentional walk. An agreement has been reached in MLB to do away with the long form free pass. Now the runner can just take his base as opposed to standing in there for four wide ones.

In theory, this was done to speed up the game. But I doubt the “AUTOIBB” or whatever it's called will speed up the game. The old style IBB took less than a minute to execute. IBB's are only issued about once every three games, so were not saving that much time.

Still, efforts should be made to try to speed up the game. Everyone seems to agree that games are taking longer, and that time is becoming a problem with the games popularity.

The average length of baseball games has steadily increased over time. If you went to see the Indians in 1948, I hope you weren't late for the games. The average game in 1948 lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes.  In 2015, the average game at Progressive Field took an astounding 3 hours and 2 minutes.  That is despite the institution of the DH in 1973, which should speed up the game.

If you're a person that happens to have to get up in the morning to go to work, you start checking the time at about the fifth inning. But what is causing the games to steadily take longer?

Maybe the biggest change to MLB recently actually lengthens the game considerably. The Replay Review challenge seems to have been copied from the NFL. Reviews seem to take place frequently now. They do seem to get the call right, but it slows down the game. It also seems odd to me that we now may be 100% accurate in fair/foul or safe/out, but the strike zone may vary from umpire to umpire.

Some aspects of game time are fixed. For example, the commercial breaks between innings have been reduced. It is now 2:05 for non-nationally televised games. If there are 18 breaks for every half inning, that's 37 minutes right there. But it's interesting that MLB actually reduced this time recently. That's time they need to make money selling commercials.

Here's an idea that might help. Reduce between inning time even further, but start the game while running the commercial spot. Show it on a split screen. If something happens during those first few pitches of the inning, there's plenty of time to catch up and show a replay.

Soccer has been running commercial spots during game time for years. As for radio broadcasts, they can charge more for their spots because there would be less availability. Radio broadcasts have used  “commercial reads” during game play for years.

The biggest difference in the game over the last few decades might be sabermetrics. Every aspect of the game is analyzed and charted. But that only concerns scouting and planning. Sabermetrics doesn't change the pace of play on the field. But it may affect how the game is taught in player development. A hitter is told to “wait for his pitch”. The importance of on-base percentage is drilled into their heads. A pitcher is taught to “make pitches on the black.” They are reminded that they are in control of the game on the mound. Nothing happens until they throw the ball.

But these are some of the aspects that make the game great. How a pitcher works a certain hitter is fascinating to me. But to a casual fan it might be boring. However, it's important for MLB to sell tickets to these casual fans too.

I don't have a problem with how the game is taught. Huge investments are made in player development. Sabermetrics is a tool to show management how to best use their investment. Maybe a way to speed the game up is simple. Run. 

When watching a college game or especially a women's softball game, watch how everybody runs. The players run on and off the field. They run up to the plate when batting. Then run back to the dugout after an out. I know MLB players are “too cool” to adopt this style now. But if it's used and encouraged starting in rookie ball, and used throughout MiLB, perhaps it would eventually creep into MLB. Remember, we only need to save about 20 minutes.

Yes, MLB does need to try to find ways to speed up the game. But it actually has more serious problems than that. The median age of a baseball fan is 53 years old per ESPN. That's by far the oldest fans of all the major sports. Compare that to the median age of 37 years old for an NBA fan. Steps need to be taken to make the game attractive and accessible to younger fans – and I don't think starting extra innings with a runner on second base is the answer either.

It's a beautiful game. But to become the true “national pastime” again major compromises need to be made by MLB and the MLBPA.


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