Blog Entry

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

Posted on: September 2, 2011 11:50 am
Edited on: September 2, 2011 12:25 pm

By Evan Brunell

Baseball needs to speed up its games.

This is nothing new you're hearing. There are plenty of articles penned each season about this, especially every time the Yankees and Red Sox meet, doing their best to finish their games only after the West Coast completes theirs. With far too much regularity, you can bank on a Sox-Yanks game going four hours or more, which was the case Thursday night. Despite just six runs crossing the plate, it took 4:21 for New York to defeat Boston. And Josh Beckett wasn't even pitching, a man who took as much as 45 seconds to throw a pitch on Wednesday against New York.

Pace of game is a topic that has long bedeviled those in the game, and Sandy Alderson worked on the issue for years when he worked for MLB. And yet, the answer is staring everyone in the face. It's right there in the rule book. Prior to the 2007 season, MLB introduced a series of rule changes, which included:

Time between pitches: The allotment for delivering the ball with no one on base has been reduced, from 20 seconds to 12. The price for each violation is a ball.

Why the heck does baseball refuse to enforce this? It's not an issue of the players' association being unhappy. It's already in the rulebook, so the MLBPA doesn't have a valid complaint. And yet, it's a rule in name only -- umpires don't even bother to attempt to enforce it, except for isolated incidents every now and then that draw startled glances.

Rob Neyer at SB Nation thinks he knows why.

But umpires have to choose their battles. Sure, you can yell at your teenager every time she spends more than 15 minutes in the shower ... but is that really how you want to live? That's not how most umpires want to live. The great majority of umpires actually prefer to get along with everyone, because it makes life a lot easier.

What they should do is issue warnings, and call balls only if those warnings are repeatedly ignored. But even then, the pitchers and managers would scream bloody murder. Ejections, suspensions, appeals ... Even if the tactic "worked" in the long term, there would be a whole lotta pain in the short term. And we're programmed to avoid pain.

It's a valid point, as anyone whose ever had a teenage child can tell you. (And if you haven't, well... just think back to how you made your father lose his hair early.)

But why does it have to be up to the umpires to monitor how many seconds it takes a pitcher? Why can't baseball install a clock?

Before you start complaining about becoming more like the NBA instead of being baseball, did adding instant replay make baseball more like football? No. What adding replay did was add another facet to the game to help the right decisions be made, and required a whole new set of rules to be written. That's not the case with the clock for pitches. Again, it already exists. Adding a clock, which could easily be integrated without significant infrastructure upgrades by putting it on video scoreboards at stadiums, would be to improve the game of baseball and speed it up.

In my completely anecdotal surveying of sports fans over the years, improving the pace of the game would dramatically increase the interest of fans who otherwise avoid watching baseball. Heck, it would increase my own interest.

Here I am, having lived and breathed baseball for much of my life, having forgotten far more than I remember about the game and with a position writing about baseball. And yet, Thursday night's Sox-Yanks game made me want to stab an ice pick in my eye. It's just not fun to watch a game drag like that. But a two-hour, four-minute game? Sign me up. Those games are fun. Thursday night's Sox-Yanks game wasn't fun, it was a chore. This coming from someone who loves baseball.

Would there be pushback by players? Yeah, probably. No one adapts to change well, especially those who would feel severely crimped by the new rule -- the Becketts, the Rafael Betancourts of the world. But it's hard for these players to raise a stink when you have other players -- an entire team, actually -- trying to speed up games. The Diamondbacks have the NL West firmly in hand, but still struggle with attendance problems, as the Arizona Republic reports.

Pitcher Joe Saunders says the team has tried to make games more attractive to attend by playing "quick, intense games," finishing up a six-game homestand by completing every game in less than three hours. Even players know what it will take to attract fans to the game, and that's speeding up play.

It doesn't even have to be 12 seconds for a dramatic increase to be felt in the game. The average time it takes a pitcher to deliver a pitch after the prior one is 21.6 seconds (pickoffs excluded), a pace that has essentially remained unchanged back through at least 2007. Perhaps instead of requiring 12 seconds to deliver a pitch, you require 16 seconds. Or 18 seconds. Whatever number, as long as it's 20 seconds or less, will go a long way toward speeding games up.

In 2010, Baseball Reference found that an average of 292 pitches are thrown per game, up 22 pitches from 20 years ago. By dint of the increase alone, an additional eight minutes or so is needed to complete the game. That may not seem like a lot, but it's not small potatoes. If you average out 292 pitches per game by the 21.6 average seconds needed for each pitch, you're looking at an hour and 45 minutes per game. Add in warmups in between each inning, batted balls, reliever changes and so on and so forth, and you can start seeing why it takes about three hours to complete a game. But if you reduce the average time to 12 seconds between pitches, that comes out to just under an hour. So now you're looking at about two hours to complete a game, which is all Mark Buehrle needed on Monday to shut out the Twins. His average pace this season is 15.8 seconds, and is considered one of the fastest pitchers in the game. And even he doesn't reach the 12-second mark.

For whatever reason, baseball hasn't opted to enforce the rule. There are many brilliant minds working for MLB, and you can bet that the idea of enforcing the 12-second rule has been discussed. And discarded. With pace of the game always a hot-button topic, baseball needs to explain to everyone why enforcing the rule won't work. And they can't use the excuse of not wanting to burden umpires, because that's what clocks are for.

Baseball is the only major sport that's played without a clock, and that's one of the most endearing traits of the game. But a pitch-count clock doesn't count, not when it's (this is getting repetitive by now, isn't it?) already in the rules, and not when the overall game still would not be governed by a clock.

It's time for baseball to lay out why exactly a pitch-count clock can't be enforced, or to come up with an alternative.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. Photo: Brett Gardner of the Yankees.

Category: MLB
Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 9:52 pm
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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 18, 2011 3:19 pm
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Since: Apr 3, 2010
Posted on: September 4, 2011 4:03 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

I always have the same answer when somebody writes or says that games need to be shorter: "Why?"

Since: Oct 15, 2007
Posted on: September 3, 2011 8:49 am

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

I personally don't care how long a baseball game takes.Each game is its own entity,and it takes however long it takes.I do agree that it's stupid to have the rule and not enforce it,but there's a rule about what the strike zone is,too,and everyone pretty much ignores that and puts their own interpretation on it.A game can go extra innings any time and last 4 or 5 hours because of it.The rules changes in the NFL which were designed to speed up games (which wasn't necessary either,it was because of television and other programming being affected)
have hurt the game in my opinion,not helped it.A team can have a 10 or 11 minute drive with no clock stoppage for out of bounds and such,and the other team barely sees the ball before the quarter is over.Leave the game alone.Don't ruin it like everything else.

Since: Jun 20, 2011
Posted on: September 2, 2011 11:31 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

That Yankees-Sox game last night was effing painful.  I'm a huge baseball fan, but you know what I did after watching several minutes of nothing happen in Boston?  I switched the channel to the Wisconsin-UNLV football game, which had been over since about halfway through the first quarter, but was still more interesting than the dreck that MLB insists is their marquee matchup.  Unless MLB gets a handle on this, there is no way they will attract casual sports fans.

Since: Sep 28, 2006
Posted on: September 2, 2011 7:19 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

Ball one was a good analogy for the article.  Its not just the pitchers that control the pace of the game.  Its the batters actions: stepping out between every pitch, elaborate batting stances that take readjusting between pitches.  The clock you propose would not start until the batter is in the box. 

Now don't get me wrong, slow pace working pitchers are boring.  Especially when they need 3 to 4 different pitch signals to come to an agreement with the catcher.

But some of the beauty of this game is the lack of a clock.  There is no definite ending, just an elaborate process that plays out over 9 innings.  Coach player conferences are untimed, its the umpire who uses his judgement to break up one.  The umpire should hand out warnings if he feels the pitcher is unduly slow.

Since: Jun 21, 2009
Posted on: September 2, 2011 5:53 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

As long as this is considered a Yankees-Red Sox problem rather than a problem with MLB nothing will change. Do fans of those teams care about the length of games? Absolutely not. Which has higher TV ratings, an additional hour of a Yankees-Red Sox game, or whatever the alternative programming? It's the game, hands down. Some people (such as me) complain about the long, drawn-out games, but for the majority it doesn't matter because they've got nothing they'd rather do than watch the game. Probably the number of those people who are likely to turn off the TV and do something else with that extra hour is greater than the number of people who are avoiding the games now because they are too long but who would watch the games if they were shorter.

TV has to fill their broadcast schedule with something, and ballparks have to not only sell tickets but food and souvenirs, which they can sell more of with longer games. There really is no one who's better off with faster games but people who don't care much about the games because they've got other things to do with their time; not exactly a well-organized interest group.

Since: Aug 4, 2011
Posted on: September 2, 2011 4:18 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

.....this is a great link!!!

Since: Aug 13, 2007
Posted on: September 2, 2011 4:11 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

I can't believe it took you 15 paragraphs and two side bars to get your point across. BALL ONE!

Since: Aug 4, 2011
Posted on: September 2, 2011 4:10 pm

Baseball needs to improve pace of game

newy york and boston are the only two teams that consistantly play four hours they put me to sleep

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