For as long as “pace of play” has permeated our baseball lexicon, there have been articles and jokes written about the subject and how Major League Baseball might not be focusing on the right factors in improving the fan experience. After all, it is the baseball fan who buys all the merchandise and watches the games on TV or at the park, so it makes sense to keep them happy, right? It makes more sense to actually *let* the fans watch the games on any medium, no matter where they are geographically, and to allow the very good young players to show off and have fun. But I suppose that is a topic for another day.
What is quantifiable, however, is how long it takes to play a baseball game. Since we last cared about this stuff, it seems that there is plenty of data now to look at whether the small tweaks that have been suggested, like limiting mound visits, has actually worked to make the games flow more smoothly. One of the simplest tweaks, the no-pitch intentional walk, apparently has only saved something like 39 seconds a game, if that. And if you look at the actual length of game over the years, even with this year’s limit on mound visits, games are still trending longer and even nine-inning games take a full three hours to complete.
Things that immediately jump out at me:
- The number of plate appearances per game, on average, hasn’t changed, so that can’t account for the increase in game length over the years.
- The number of pitches per plate appearances has kept trending up, however, as teams continue to value grinding at-bats and on-base percentage throughout lineups. This of course adds time to each plate appearance.
- And accordingly, with more grinding comes more pitching changes as teams like the Rays employ the “opener” strategy and most other teams are shortening the outings of their starting pitchers while taking the Tony La Russa bullpenning to an extreme.
- Finally, did you notice that the overall and per-game attendance has decreased gradually over the past few years?
So the game hasn’t really shortened much (although I guess we will see what happens once the Commissioner enacts unilateral game rule changes in that regard), and fans aren’t going to games as much even though the sport is far from dying. I do like the pitching change clocks, but there might be more that needs to be done. Or maybe there isn’t anything else that needs to be changed, and the teams should just make it affordable to go to a game again. Who knows?