This was mentioned in passing in our latest Dreamcast, but while the Opening Day game between the Chicago Cubs and the host Miami Marlins did go over three hours in length, it seemed to go pretty smoothly because of all the action within the game time. We do know that MLB is huge on pace of play initiatives this season, so let’s run through them really quickly:
- Mound visit limits
- Time between innings/plays, including for video reviews
- Extra innings rules for minor league baseball only (for now, and forever, we hope)
While suffering from spring break insomnia, I went ahead and looked through the box scores to check the official time of game. I don’t think GameDay has really set up a score bug to tell how many mound visits are left (I also didn’t really see one on the WGN broadcast, although I do know that both teams used at least one and the mound visits were tracked on the stadium video boards). I do believe they differentiate between a catcher’s mound visit and a coach’s visit to set up a pitching change, though. That will have to be something to keep better tabs on, but as of now, the Baseball-Reference folks haven’t updated their scoreboards so there’s no ready resource to sort the data in one place. Just bear with me here as we go through the Opening Day games.
There were 13 total contests across MLB, with two would-be season openers rained out. I decided to look at the times of games as well as how many total walks, hit-by-pitches, and hits there were. It might not be completely scientific but I just wanted to get a general idea of what could be prolonging games via game action. Again there isn’t any way I can see to check for number of mound visits or injury delays other than just going through the play by play, and I’m just not that obsessive. Here we go:
Cubs 8, Marlins 4 (9 innings, 3:18)
Cubs and Marlins combined for 17 hits, 13 walks, and 4 HBP. I guess Jason Heyward‘s reach by catcher’s interference is an additional baserunner, and I didn’t really keep track of the guys who reached on errors (I don’t think there were any). So that’s a total of 35 possible baserunners, which prolongs the time of game because the more offense there is, the longer baseball is given no true clock. As Crawly and I discussed, the action kept moving and it wasn’t an egregiously long game; in fact, we were rather entertained, especially with the part where the Cubs won.
Cardinals 4, Mets 9 (9 innings, 3:01)
Teams combined for 18 hits, 10 walks, and one HBP. That it finished just over three hours is kind of interesting, since that represents only 29 baserunners, so taking the Cubs game into account, each baserunner increases the game by about 3 minutes. But that’s just n = 1 so we’ll keep going.
Twins 2, Orioles 3 (11 innings, 3:31)
13 hits, 8 walks, two of the walks were intentional so those won’t tack on too much time. So that’s only 21 baserunners, but I guess two extra frames tacks on the time. I do remember checking into this game and seeing the Twins use like four or five mound visits in the ninth inning, so that probably increased the time some. This one ended on an Adam Jones walk-off homer so I think the fans liked that, but the low scoring probably made this one seem to drag a bit. Considering that this still ended earlier than a typical Yankees-Red Sox ESPN contest, I guess it motored along?
Astros 4, Rangers 1 (9 innings, 2:59)
Our first game under three hours in length! Only 12 hits, 8 total walks, and one HBP. I probably should have checked the number of pitchers too, but most of them seemed to enter in a new frame so that’s time already built into the game.
Yankees 6, Blue Jays 1 (9 innings, 2:51)
Another under three hours, this one had 13 hits (11 by the Yankees), only five total walks. Pretty tidy game here. I assume Giancarlo Stanton didn’t take too long rounding the bases on his two long bombs.
Red Sox 4, Rays 6 (9 innings, 3:00)
Three hours on the dot. 12 total hits, 9 walks. I guess if you stay around 20 baserunners, that keeps the game very close to the magic three hour mark.
Angels 5, A’s 6 (11 innings, 4:02)
I think this is the only one of the group that went over four hours, but I’m pretty sure that’s because of the 25 (!!) total hits and not so much the six walks. The Angels had a few mid-inning pitching changes which likely increased the time of game by a few minutes each instance. Another obvious walkoff and plenty of action within the game so it’s not like the fans didn’t get their money’s worth.
Brewers 2, Padres 1 (12 innings, 3:36)
16 hits, 8 walks, one HBP. Only one mid-inning pitching change. Not too bad for three extra frames.
Phillies 5, Braves 8 (9 innings, 3:28)
15 hits, 10 walks, two HBP. Walk off bomb by Nick Markakis, who apparently has never done this before in a regular season game. Both teams had multiple mid-inning pitching changes, but scoring that many times and plenty of guys on base plus the walk off suggests it was an enjoyable game to watch.
White Sox 14, Royals 7 (9 innings, 3:26)
This is a football score! 23 hits combined, 9 walks, two HBP and it’s just barely more than the Cubs game, probably because both teams seemed to exhaust their bullpens since nobody knew how to pitch in the game.
Giants 1, Dodgers 0 (9 innings, 2:55)
14 hits, 7 walks, so we’re at the magic 20-ish baserunner mark that can keep the game time under three hours. Low scoring but still plenty of guys on base, with the only tally a solo home run off Clayton Kershaw. How about them apples?
Indians 1, Mariners 2 (9 innings, 2:35)
This was a really efficient game. Only 11 hits, three total walks, two HBP by Edwin Diaz in the ninth, and Corey Kluber threw a complete game (eight innings) in a losing effort. Lack of offense and command pitching? Yeah, that’ll make the game go faster for sure. I bet this game finishes faster if Seattle hadn’t used a bunch of mid-inning pitching changes and Diaz had been less wild, but you can’t predict baseball.
Rockies 2, Diamondbacks 8 (9 innings, 3:36)
21 combined hits, 8 walks, and mid-inning pitching changes galore. Still not too bad, because offense is exciting. There were only two home runs by the Rockies, as the Diamondbacks scored all of their runs without the help of a long ball.
I imagine Opening Day is just a test run, and many teams didn’t exhaust their mound visits until late in the game when I guess the leverage index was sky high. If we strip away the extra inning games (which I assume MLB will not count in the average time of game), that still leaves us at three hours and seven minutes on average for the first day. Let’s say that the umpires and MLB talk to teams about this and rein it in, but there would need to be some work done to avoid this:
MLB’s latest pace-of-play proposal, per sources: No pitch clock in ‘18. If games are 2:55 or longer, 18-second clock for ‘19 with no runners on base starting May 1, with ball-strike penalty. If in ‘19 games are 2:50 or longer, additional 20-second clock with runners on in ‘20.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 1, 2018
The issue with baseball is not so much about length of game because there is no clock. It’s about action. We see that with more men on base (i.e. action), there will naturally be a direct increase in game length. I have no problem with the pitch clock per se, but I don’t think teams can get under the suggested 2:55 average target this year, so we are probably going to have to prepare for it next year. I did see a few players step out of the box when MLB mandated that they should stay in barring a foul or a dead ball, so I think MLB will yell at teams about that some more.
I’ll try this again after a week of games have been played. But honestly, I don’t care that the game lasts that long (unless I have somewhere to go, like bed) as long as it’s enjoyable to watch. That’s what MLB should be focusing on.