Baseball fact of the day

Statistics showing precisely when starting pitchers become less effective have prompted teams to remove them from games earlier than before. That has increased one of the biggest drags on pace of play: pitching changes. Regular-season games this year saw an average of 8.4 pitchers used between both teams, an all-time high. That’s up from 5.8 pitchers a game 30 years ago.

This to me seems deadly:

Games this season saw an average gap of 3 minutes, 48 seconds between balls in play, an all-time high.

And the average game is now three hours, five minutes long.

That is from a WSJ article, by Brian Costa and Jared Diamond, about how the quants are slowing down the game of baseball.

Hat tip goes to Cliff Asness.


Interesting stuff. There's talk of a rule change limiting the number of pitching changes in an inning for example. Which would be a good idea.

That's rule they have considered for decades, every since Tony LaRussa started switching pitchers out constantly. One idea I've read is placing more limits on substitutions in exchange for allowing the DH in both leagues.

There's ten billion things they could do to make the game better, but they're scared of decreasing ad revenue. Here's several suggestions that will never happen: cut the number of games in half; play seven innings; get rid of extra innings and allow ties; make every pitcher pitch to the entire lineup twice or else they have to go on the 15 day DL; limit the number of times pitchers can throw to first; make a foul ball on strike two a half a strike so guys don't have interminable at-bats where they foul off a billion balls and they actually try to hit the damn thing; etc etc etc

Loved baseball as a kid but haven't watched in years and years. If they don't want people like me back at the risk of losing ad revenue they can watch their following die off over the next 15 years. I was a big time early proponent of sabermetrics but it made the game more boring. Sorry, but a hit is more exciting than a walk, no matter their near-
equivalence in value.

"will never happen"

Because they are dumb, sorry.

You should watch ladies softball Seems your speed.

The changes you are describing would make it a completely different game from the one you remember loving as a kid. If you loved it then why not now? Don't need to radically uproot everything.

People have also been predicting baseball dying off in "the next 15 years" for about 40 years or so. Revenues keep going up, year after year.

Not sure how it'd make it a completely different game in any meaningful sense to completely remove one-out lefties or cut back on the sheer volume of games or even cut it to 7 innings so we don't have as many middle relievers. At other levels people play games of 7 innings or they play less frequently and no one says it's not baseball. LOOGYs are a relatively recent and completely intolerable innovation. Foul ball idea isnt serious, other ones are.

When you're a kid everything feels high stakes; I'd watch pre-season games back then. As an adult, MLB regular season games not only feel very low stakes, they don't even do you the favor of being fast. The action is the NFL is slow but at least every play feels high stakes.

The pitch clock should help. They should also allow pitcher can go whenever ready (e.g., no batter initiated time outs).

... which will work until the next Ray Chapman..

MAD Magazine had a proposal for improving baseball by making it a more violent game, Basebrawl. Among other things, the batter would take the bat with him around the bases for combat with anybody who got in his way. Hey, somebody scanned it:

Basebrawl was a classic but even so not as good as Mad's look at nuclear chess:

Those scans I think omit the last panel, which showed a post-thermonuclear apocalyptic landscape.

I always thought baseball was boring, but when my boyfriend insisted I come to one game, I acquiesced.

It is bizarrely, inhumanely, impossibly boring, way worse than I could have ever imagined. As boring as it is on TV, it is even worse in person. It's so boring it sucked all the interesting TV shows off my phone. It permanently confiscated my most interesting anecdotes.

I know I should have gotten drunk, but I just fall asleep when I drink. In retrospect, that would have been a better idea. My boyfriend could have carried me back to the car.

Lol, I'm with you.

I do watch the playoffs. That's when it gets interesting.

Try real football. The dribling, the goals, the heading the ball, the slide tackles.

> "Try real football."

Better still, try rugby.

Sorry, I don't think American will adopt a game that ends 1-0 90% of the games, talk about dull.

It is not dull, it is an action-packed strategy game.

"the goals,"

Presumably the "s" is a typo

No, it is not. The Brazilian Cup has an average of 3 goals for game!!

I've made it marketed to me as being boring in a fun way. Its the right level of boring that you can go to a game for very cheap (at least in Toronto), enjoy your beer and have a hot dog.

Its one of those sports that's very fun to play but far less so to watch.

I grew up watching the Astros. Loved baseball.

But even with them being one of the best teams, it's hard for me to watch now. I'll watch the playoffs but I watched very little regular season.

The Astros have a great radio team. That's generally the way I follow them.

I grew up watching the Astros. Loved baseball.

How is that possible?

Bagwell and Biggio.

They also had a good history in the 80s and with Nolan Ryan, though I was too young to remember.

How about eliminate the warmup? Relief pitcher warms up in the bullpen and then throws first pitch cold.

Yep. Get rid of the warm-ups on the mound. Will that make relievers less accurate at first? I can live with that -- maybe it'll tip the balance of leaving the other pitcher in longer. We went to a game this year after the September call-ups (so both teams had an excess in the bullpen) and the number of pitching changes at the end was torture (and this was a game between teams not even in contention at that point).

This could be a very very good idea. It would reduce the dead time caused by pitching changes. And it would presumably reduce the number of pitching changes, because it would be more problematic to bring in a new pitcher, if he's not warmed up.

Managers could still use their bullpens tactically, but would no longer have free rein to go all LaRussa.

Quants are ruining more than baseball. Baseball is unpredictable, life is unpredictable. Quants think they can make baseball, and life generally, predictable. If they succeed, we lose.

No, quants think there is a lot of random luck in baseball, and there are a lot of things that baseball managers do (particularly involving bunting or arranging batting orders) that simply don't move the dial from random chance.

If quants succeed in making baseball and life predictable, that's pretty good evidence that those things are, in fact predictable. QED.

Pace of play is a problem with all sports. Football games are horribly long compared to before, and “30 second” timeouts in basketball are now measures in minutes.

That said with baseball, it is best on the radio. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of decline in baseball popularity is related to the increasing dominance of television. My grandpa would always listen to the Royals on the radio on his back porch while drinking tea.

Football is FAR more boring than baseball. Literally 4 minutes of actual play (multiple studies proving so) between endless huddles, timeouts, commercials, etc. Touchdown, commercials, kickoff, touchback, commercials, injury timeout, commercial, regular timeout, commercial, half time, a million commercials....

Football is even worse in person, at least on TV during huddles you see slo mo replays of the last play, in the stadium you just sit there waiting for anything to happen.

Football is probably the worst of the 4 major North American sports to watch live because of the TV timeouts. You notice the TV timeouts much more in hockey because the break in the action is more obvious.

If only hockey were a sport.

Mark Buhrle, of the '00's White Sox and Blue Jays, often pitched complete games. He was ready to throw the ball almost as soon as the catcher threw it back to him.

He worked fast, threw strikes, got grounders (he needed a good fielding team behind him), hit his spots, changed speeds, and got away with only having about an 85 mph fastball. He threw one perfect game in his career.

Many of his games were a little over 2 hours in length.

It just seems like he played a completely different game than the guys now, and he only retired in like '13 or so!

He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame but likely won't get there. Loved that guy.

You don't think so? He had a no hitter AND a perfect game, and had a decently long career where he was pretty much at the top of most statistics any year. And one World Series ring where he was the ace of the team. Why isn't that HOF worthy? Because he played for the unloved White Sox?

I couldn't agree more, but the projections don't really favor him. ERA too high, not many strikeouts, etc. His career WAR is right on the cusp of where HOFers usually reside though. And in looking for links I found a few that seemed to think he has an ok shot like this one:

He actually didn't retire until 2015 so 2020 is the earliest he could get in. Won't be first ballot for sure, he was never a dominant or feared pitcher, no Cy Youngs, etc. If Tommy John with his 288 wins and a famous surgery isn't in....

Right, that Tommy John isn't in the Hall of Fame despite being (deservedly) highly famous shows how hard it is.

That Tommy John isn't in the Hall of Fame has long suggested to me that there should be a Hall of Interest for guys who aren't in the Hall of Fame:

Tommy John, Dummy Hoy, Rusty Staub, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Curt Flood, Pete Reiser, Jim Abbott, Doc Gooden, Curt Schilling, Rick Ankiel, Fernando Valenzuela, Lefty O'Doul, Steve Dalkowski, and so forth, along with the obvious Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens.

More interesting than a Hall of Interest is the Baseball Reliquary's "Shrine of the Eternals", which is basically for people (including non-players) who were significant or interesting but who typically have little or no chance of getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mark "the Bird" Fidrych. Curt Flood. Jim Bouton. Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Moe Berg. Marvin Miller. Bill James.

Also see Tom Browning of the Reds.

Mark Buehrle was a fairly average pitcher but an excellent player because of his tremendous defense. He won 214 games without throwing much above 85 mph and without being a great Tommy John-like sinkerball pitcher. But he was perhaps the greatest pitcher in recent baseball history at keeping runners from stealing second. For his 16 year career as a workhorse starter, he gave up only 59 stolen bases and had 81 caught stealing (a caught stealing percentage of 58% during an era when the league average was 29%).

In contrast, Nolan Ryan gave up 757 stolen bases. Buehrle was 54 games over .500 for his career, while Ryan was 32.

Buehrle was also very good with his glove and started lots of double plays. Major league pitchers tend to be terrible defensive players, so Buehrle being highly competent at fielding made him, relative to the league average pitcher, as valuable defensively when he was on the field as a superstar shortstop like Andrelton Simmons.

Rewrite the rules. Perhaps something along the lines where everyone who buys a ticket gets a vote for which team was the most entertaining. The team that wins the vote gets to start their next game of the season with a man on first base.

I was read (from years ago) that in a baseball game that lasted 2.5 hours there might only be 10 minutes of actual play. I've never had the patience to time it myself but it doesn't seem too far off the mark.

NFL football is worse, 3+ hour games, 4 minutes of action. Soccer has continuous 'action' but no scoring.

Basketball and hockey are probably the best in terms of continuous play with legit scoring chances.

The 4 minutes figure is utter bullshit. That's 240 seconds. There are around to 120 runs/passes in a game, plus kicks. You think the average play takes less than two seconds?

I'm sure it's close to 4 minutes than 40 minutes, but I would bet it's over 10.

This link says 11 minutes, which seems about right.

"And the average game is now three hours, five minutes long."

The average length of the game was 3 hours and eight minutes in 2014. Since the article is gated for me, its not clear whether the writers are aware of the various changes that have been implemented to reduce game time, such as the pitch clocks in the minor leagues.

"Games this season saw an average gap of 3 minutes, 48 seconds between balls in play, an all-time high."

There has been a move towards batters selling out for power -- more home runs, more strike outs. There has also been the introduction of re-review of close calls.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall so I cannot read it. This is a far more nuanced issue than what Tyler states in his blog post. I've been following baseball since 1954 and have been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) since a few years after it was formed. Some of the game length is a result of television as today every game is televised. there is a need to set aside a longer period between innings for advertising and it's doubtful that this can be shortened. Pitching changes do not necessarily lengthen games all that much. The number of changes is self-limiting by the number of relievers on the roster. Most of the changes take place at the beginning of an inning so there is really not the level of disruption that one sees when a change is made mid-inning (1-2 visits from the manager/pitching coach; walk to the mound by the reliever; discussion with the reliever by the manager/pitching coach; warm-up pitches). Squeezing time to shorten games will have to come from somewhere else.

"Some of the game length is a result of television as today every game is televised. there is a need to set aside a longer period between innings for advertising and it’s doubtful that this can be shortened."

So that is it: the Almighty Dollar must be worshipped!!

Sure, the almighty dollar must be worshipped. But soccer seems to have a bunch of almighty dollars floating around with fewer interruptions of play. (although it does seem to me that players are slower to take free kicks than they used to be)

Sure, there are billboards in the background and there are commercials showing around the screen while the action is minimized, but that's a better solution.

>Some of the game length is a result of television as today every game is televised. there is a need to set
>aside a longer period between innings for advertising and it’s doubtful that this can be shortened.

I suppose they could decouple the live action and the broadcast. For example, buffer the last 20 seconds of the period-between-innings + play back the buffered video at 1.1x speed until you catch up.

The only ones who might notice are those watching TV muted + radio audio. And even then, they'll blame it on their digital TV's (which also buffer).

The pace of play doesn't really bother me. It appears that one of the factors causing the game to slow down is pitchers throwing more often at max effort, which naturally requires a longer rest between pitches. If given the choice, I'd rather see more high-quality pitches (and better play in general) over a longer period of time rather than faster, lower-quality, sloppier play. (If this is a false choice, I'm not seeing it.)

Which is not to say that there aren't reasonable steps MLB could take to shorten games times without fundamentally altering the game. But overall I think today's MLB is a better quality product that takes more time to deliver. Then again, I like that baseball slows down the pace of my life and gives me ample opportunity to daydream between pitches. Maybe baseball is becoming more of a niche product, and I'm in the niche that's being catered to. And MLB seems to be making plenty of money, so the niche doesn't appear to be too small to sustain the game as a viable business.

Isn't the pace part of the appeal? Baseball is a game made for conversation and then you pause for a moment. Don't go to a baseball game with someone you don't want to have a 3hr conversation with.

Yep, it absolutely is. If you need what's on the screen to distract you from your own thoughts every 15 seconds, baseball isn't the sport for you, and that's perfectly fine.

It was until the amped up music in the stadium made it impossible to talk to the person next to you.

Baseball is a regional game. Really always has been. Certain areas are baseball friendly [St. Louis, NYC, Boston] and others are not. While national TV ratings are poor, some regions do quite well. Tribe games have set local records this year.

Ban batting gloves. Players adjust their gloves after every pitch for some reason.

National tv ratings for non-playoff games are bad in every sport but football. Hardly anyone watches regular season NBA either.

Get rid of the DH and limit the size of the bench.

Release tigers onto the field at random intervals.

In Detroit, this already happens at the beginning of every inning.

I'm speaking from memory here so I'm probably mistaken. Nevertheless, here goes. Everyone knows the Yankees have won a gazillion World Series (despite their ridiculous pinstripes).

But, up until about the mid Fifties, the Tigers were the only team to have never finished last.

ALL professional sports are dying before our eyes: interesting.

When does a comparable affliction overtake video and music production?

It already happened with music.

we're all dying, but leaving aside the universal forces of decay, professional sports seem to be doing remarkably well. mlb has come to grips with "not the national pastime" and is in a comfortable position; nba and soccer are both still on the cultural and financial upswing; nfl -- sure, causing irreparable brain damage in the majority of your participants is probably a long-term death knell, but it still is really really fucking popular in the meantime.

music is much more dead as a cultural force than professional sports.

I don't know, soccer, at least in Europe, seems to be going from strength to strength. Check out this year's premier league. Also F1 is having a good season.

This has been a major topic of discussion for at least 15 years, not sure why Ty suddenly noticed it.

But anyway, just like soccer, no one watches baseball because it is exciting. They watch because they grew up watching it and maybe playing it, and most importantly, rooting for their home team. The product has certainly degraded of late, but that does not deter the fan described above. To them (us), watching baseball is a tradition and a habit, and trying to improve the game to any measurable extent will actually HURT their experience because they want to watch the same game they watched with their Dad at age nine. And literally no one will suddenly start watching because they magically shaved 40 minutes off the games.

And that's it. Baseball is very tense, very strategic, and played by very skilled people... but it is not inherently exciting, and it never will be. Its excitement only comes in small doses over several hours when its tension gets unleashed.

Talk of shortening the game is interesting but completely pointless.... which I suppose is why economists are drawn to it.

"But anyway, just like soccer, no one watches baseball because it is exciting."
That is silly. I root for not team, I enjoy the game because it is exciting, full of passion and action and dribbling and goals. It is the kings' sports.

Yeah, don't disagree with the broad points but way off on soccer. There's a ton going on with every single touch if you know what to watch for, and worldwide viewership trends seem to suggest that there's plenty of excitement even if you don't. It shares the buildup, tension, and history with baseball while adding several layers of creativity and tactical depth and cutting out most of the actual downtime.


>they want to watch the same game they watched with their Dad at age nine

which was 40 minutes shorter, depending on your age.

Baseball -- like opera, education, and life generally -- is most rewarding to those with high discount rates.

To paraphrase Tyler on reading, the best way to enjoy baseball is to have already watched a lot of it.

I would rather die than watch a baseball game!!!!

Buerhle threw 33 complete games in 493 career starts. He never threw more than five complete games in a single season. Still extremely impressive for modern baseball, but hardly "often."

Roy Halladay, who also retired in 2013, threw 67 complete games in 390 career starts, including four seasons with nine complete games (three consecutive), one with eight, and one with seven.

This was meant to be in reply to "The Engineer" above.

Buhrle didn't retire in 2013

Since you mention Roy Halladay (and because I'm old) I refer you to Robin Roberts. I'm sure he pitched a lot of complete games for the simple reason that the Phillies had nobody better (or half as good) in the bullpen.

The WSJ had an article a year or so ago showing that the average baseball or football game has only 15 min of action -- interspersed with lots of commercials, grown men spitting, tugging at the crotches, pretending to be a dog urinating, taking a knee to protest something or other, whatever. What is a little hard to comprehend is why the American public pays good money to watch this stuff. Though the trend, certainly among young males as to baseball, is to ignore it -- just way too slow for he modern world, and there are lots more entertaining and cheaper ways to amuse yourself.

Slightly off-topic - how can I stop signing into WSJ every day to read a new article (aside from canceling account)?

And yet home runs are at an all-time high.

I'm sure Tyler thinks watching chess is fascinating. If he understood the endless arms race between pitcher and hitter, he might enjoy a similar fascination with baseball (plus, it's not just two guys sitting in chairs across from each other.)

But I'm sure he doesn't understand what is happening in these duels, so he finds baseball boring, just like most people find chess boring.

I think Tyler is trying to lower the status of baseball (and football), and presumably raise the status of something else like chess.

Nothing bores me more than going to a MLB game.

One game I took about 6+ shots of whiskey on a mostly empty stomach before going in to the stadium. I spent the whole game running my mouth with my friends like a drunk idiot. Before I knew it the game was over. I hadn't watched a single play. Best baseball game ever.

Thread winner, right here.

The length of the game isn't the problem, the lack of balls in play is.

The lack of balls in play is from the desire for home runs in combination with a willingness to accept a high strike out rate when swinging for the fences.

They could take steps to make pitching less important. Change strike zone, Change height of pitching mound, move mound back 10 inches. But pitchers are the most injured players and gifted, healthy ones are rare. Yet pitchers with high velocity and a single dominate pitch seems to have increased (and with them the importance of relief pitchers.) Yankees will probably depend on this if they want to get past the Indians.

I still enjoy baseball on a summer evening. I've been to most major league ballparks. I don't know how many minor league parks. For me it is, in many ways, timeless. In part because I have very pleasant memories of when I played as a kid.

The rules are simple. The strategy isn't complex. It is a skill sport more then pure athletic ability. But it isn't for everybody.

The rules are simple! You need to hear an imaginary phone conversation between Bob Newhart (as game marketer) and Abner Doubleday. Probably not available on the Internet anyway.

I'm at work so I can't listen to this at the moment, but it looks like Bob Newhart's routine is linked to by this article, which calls it the #3 all-time best comedy routine about baseball:

I'm at work so I can't listen to this at the moment, but it looks like Bob Newhart's routine is linked to by this article, which calls it the #3 all-time best comedy routine about baseball:

The 'deadly' balls in play metric might be a little misleading as there's a note in the article that HRs are not counted as balls in play. The 2017 season set the record for most home runs (and also strikeouts).

I think the average football game is longer, has more breaks (in a more inconsistent structure) which means more commercials, and less time spent playing (the WSJ estimated at one point that there was something like only 11 minutes of action in the total 3+ hours of the game). I also find the hyper-sensationalized importance of the NFL off-putting and haven't watched a game in years.

Part of what I find interesting about baseball is how each individual game is part of a larger story. Out of 162 games, one game isn't usually that important, and rarely memorable. Each game builds to a larger, longer story over the course of Spring, Summer and Fall. It's also a game with lots of failure. Someone who only gets a hit 30% or on base 40% of the time is pretty awesome. Even the all-time best still failed most of the time. The best teams usually win just over 60% of their games. I like that it's a grind, with building moments of anticipation, and lots of failure.

I also like that I can have a game on in the background while I'm doing work and not see any of the action, but still have a very good understanding of what's happening. I don't need constant action to keep me engaged.

This guy gets it.

Also, it doesn't have to be an either/or thing, one can like baseball and football and basketball and hockey and chess all for different reasons.

The first game of the baseball season is just as important as the last.

I wouldn’t consider a home run as a ball in play

While it is technically a ball in play I mean running the bases moving runners over etc adds tension and excitement, for me

Worse is watching people strike out in record numbers

Baseball and hurricanes. What? Ever since the weather guys (are there weather girls?) have been giving us predictions of this or that hurricane, where it will go, and how much damage it will inflict, I've been a wreck. Of course, the explanation for all of this information is to alert those who need to evacuate. Wrong! Hurricanes are like squirrels: they seldom travel in a straight line. Thus, the recent hurricane, Ms. Irma, inflicted major damage in an area, my area, that was, up until hours before the storm arrived, wasn't expected to inflict much, if any, damage. If I didn't have all of the information, that turned out to be inaccurate, I would have left; but with all of that inaccurate information, I stayed. Baseball is like that: too much information, most of it inaccurate, propelling lots of fans to evacuate, to evacuate the baseball stadiums.

The fact that time is irrelevant is one of the best features of baseball. It was born in an era when few people even had watches. Baseball was fairly popular even before motion pictures. Other major sports didn't become popular until clock conscious radio and television needed programming. Basketball is time obsessive, with referees counting time for pass-ins, crossing half-court, time in the key, shot clocks, etc., etc., all in an effort to make the players play.

Legendary Dodger manager Tom Lasorda told sports writers that they were the main source of complaints about the length of games since observing them was their work and they were more interested in being in the saloon than at the ballpark. He maintained that he seldom heard fans complain about game length. Ultimately, ticket holders aren't required to be in their seats before the game starts and are permitted to leave the stadium at any time.

"He maintained that he seldom heard fans complain about game length."

A number of baseball managers have said this, but they either aren't listening or aren't hearing very well.

Lasorda doesn't even have to use his ears, he can see it with his eyes: Dodger fans vote with their feet. I've never seen a ballpark where so many people arrive around the 2nd inning and leave around the 8th.

Dodger fans are notorious for late arrival and early departure but it may have more to do with Los Angeles traffic than the length of the games. Then there's the fact that a certain percentage of spectators aren't there to observe every pitch but instead use their appearance at a game as a social status signal. A seat at a sold-out game is more valuable than its ticket price.

The 10-9 seventh game of the 1960 World Series took only 2 hours and 36 minutes, while the 8-7 ten inning seventh game of the 2016 World Series, not counting the rain delay, took four hours and 11 minutes.

The 1960 7th game had an unusual zero strikeouts, while the 2016 game had 14 strikeouts, which is not high these days for ten innings.

Line drive contact hitting could be encouraged by making infields and outfields play faster so that ground balls are more likely to roll between infielders to the outfield for singles and line drives are more likely to roll between outfielders to the fence for doubles and triples.

Golf greenskeepers have developed many techniques in recent decades to make golf greens and fairways roll faster to increase the challenge. Similar techniques could be applied to baseball fields. For example, outfield grass could all be mowed so that the grain points away from the batter, making hard hit balls likelier to roll to the wall for extra bases.

Baseball and cricket are, at last, finally converging. In duration, at least, if not entertainment.

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