Does Baseball Really Need to Speed Up? Probably, but They Haven’t Found a Way Yet.

Yes and no.

That’s my answer when people ask me if the game needs sped up.

I answer that way because, well, I’m me. I rarely see one side of an argument and hang on for dear life. Personally, the game is fine with me from this perspective, now, catch me after a 4:15 nine inning game and I might in the moment have a different take. In the moment because when I come back to earth a bit I tend to settle on the yin and yang of a pitchers dual versus a slugfest.

For most of baseball history an average game would last 2:30 or far less, the further you go back the smaller the number. All the way to the low water mark of 1:53 AVERAGE. Think about that, this supposes that there were games wrapped up in 1:30 or so routinely.

in 1977 the average MLB game for the first time crept above 2:30, adding 2 minutes to the mark. It would hit it’s next milestone in 2012 where the average eclipsed 3:00, and leading directly to this year’s mark of 3:07, the highest game time average in the history of the sport.

Why?

I mean this has been a focus for at least five years, maybe longer. They’ve actually changed rules to address it, some that change the very structure of the game itself like starting a runner at second base in extra frames. So, is it safe to assume the efforts aren’t working? I’d say the evidence is piling up that we have identified a problem here but didn’t bother siting in our weapon of choice before going hunting.

Just this year the league tried locking relievers in until they’ve faced 3 batters, the aforementioned ghost runner, and continued the tradition of limiting mound visits.

We’ve seen pitch clocks which dissipated like a bad smell in the wind and a supposed ‘stay in the box’ rule that also went the way of the dodo.

To me one real problem is clear from the very date this really started creeping up, 1977, the golden age of sports on TV. Commercials slow down the inning breaks, that’s just fact. Anyone who’s gone to a game knows how much time is wasted between each half inning, for most games that’s 17 times where you could easily trim 3 minutes a pop, that’s 50 minutes right there. If it’s about losing commercial revenue, adopt something like what European Soccer does where they run ads on the bottom third of the screen during action. Keep the 7th inning stretch as an actual break, and reliever changes, whatever.

Just sayin’, this doesn’t affect play or the rules in any way. Everyone can still adjust their gloves 60 times an at bat or lick their fingers and adjust their crotch between every pitch if they like and the games would get shorter.

OK, I clearly can’t be the only one who’s thought this right? So there must be some super smart, way above my head baseball reason it can’t work then.

So what else could we do? I mean we could go after the very jock adjusting, ritual driven BS that seems to make almost all these players tick, but I honestly think as soon as you start trying to police that stuff you look just as dumb as MLB did this season trying to outlaw spitting.

I’ve heard people suggest going to a 3 balls and 2 strike approach but that would be a seismic change, not to mention the premise assumes most at bats go to 3-2. Along the same line some have suggested adopting last year’s 7 inning game approach all the time. All I can say is imagine the NFL decided to make the 4th quarter only 10 minutes long next season, eventually I guess you’d get used to it but man would that change things. Like, would anyone ever defer the kickoff again if they knew there was less time in the second half. Well, I think what I saw last season showed me that managers would take that shortened game opportunity to be even quicker with the hook on the mound.

Shifting used to be in between every at bat when it first became a thing, now it’s at times utilized during at bats. I suppose that could slow down the pitcher a bit, because in between the pitches and gamesmanship of an at bat you have to wait for the ole ballcoach to signal in that he wants the shortstop to move 7 inches to his right. Again though, how would you legislate that? How would you know a guy just moved versus the bench told him to? Seems messy.

Review has taken time, longer than it should have especially if they’re still going to be wrong as often as they are. There’s a genie in a bottle syndrome here, and it’s here to stay now.

The approach of the batters has changed as swinging for the fences has led to more strikeouts which inherently come with more pitches per at bat. 2020 again set a record here at 3.97 pitches per at bat. Maybe there is a tie in there between the two figures 2020 saw set records. Another record that probably has to do with both of the other two is pitchers per game which this year rose to 4.43. Now part of that could be the fact many pitchers weren’t properly stretched out but it was trending up already as 2019 saw 4.41, hard to give the same excuse there.

So what I’m seeing here is coaching creates quite a bit of game extension. That should be at least an area of focus. I can’t say I have answers here but if you’re looking for a relevant and controllable area to look into, there’s a starting point.

We kind of spoke to the gamesmanship aspect but one thing that could help I think would be the advent of electronic strike zones. I don’t want to get into guys losing jobs, the ump can still stand there, who cares. this is just about speeding up the games. Now, why do I think this would help? Established strike zones will force less nibbling and entice more batters to swing. Eventually athletes will hone in more than they ever have. Guys with a good eye at the plate, well they’ll become REAL good at understanding what is and isn’t a strike. Pitchers that paint the corners, will get REAL good at painting a corner they can practice over and over again.

Over time I see this leading to more contact, more balls in play, and overall, less messing around with trying to get a call. That high and tight fastball to Anthony Rizzo that gets called a ball because he dove like Private Ryan into a bunker, will now be a strike. That cross up with the catcher that caught the zone anyway isn’t left to the discretion of a guy who thought he might catch it in the dome.

Hey, that’s my idea, I’m not the guy at the top of the sport constantly saying the game needs to speed up.

Where do you fall on this?

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: