“Pace of play” is the cause célèbre of the off-season, and it seems to be of particular importance to the game’s new commissioner. Concern over the speed at which players perform their various tasks has provoked an assortment of ideas to increase their alacrity. This, in turn, has provoked an assortment of outrage from baseball reactionaries (like me) who think the game’s pace is just fine, thank you very much. One baseball writer claimed that “every innovation” in the game “has been bitterly fought until finally adopted.” He was right when he wrote it in 1913, and he’s right a century later.
The Rockies played their allotted 162 games at various speeds last year. The shortest was a truncated two-hour, four-minute affair against the Dodgers (called after six innings on account of rain, not mercy), while the longest was a 16-inning tickle fight against the Cubs that tried fans’ patience for six and a half hours. The longest nine-inning Rockies game of 2014 was 4:08, while the shortest was a win over Philadelphia that lasted just 2:23.
Sorting the Rockies’ season by length of time, two ballgames fall right in the middle at three hours, seven minutes: a May 30 loss in Cleveland and a home victory against the Marlins on August 24. Having discovered this midpoint, I did what any well-adjusted man entering middle age would do on a quiet weekend afternoon: I sat down and timed the pieces and parts of a Rockies game.
Opting to watch the win rather than the loss, here’s what I discovered when replaying the Rockies’ August 24 game against Miami, this time using a timer and the pause button:
The time between pitches was fairly reliable. Christian Bergman generally worked quickly, while Brad Hand for the Marlins generally did not. In the end, the time between pitches ranged from 7.85 seconds to 29 seconds, not counting pickoff attempts or stepping off the pitching rubber. But the average time between throws was 17.35 seconds, short of the 20 seconds that baseball will impose on minor leaguers this season. (Disclaimer: I timed pitches in the first three innings only; I couldn’t barricade my sanity forever).
The time between batters similarly was reliable — and too long. Over the course of the game, the average time between batters was 29.41 seconds. With 79 plate appearances, that adds up to 38 minutes of strolling from the on-deck circle to the plate. There was little reason for this, since some batters were in the box and ready to hit in less than 20 seconds. Over the same 79 plate appearances, limiting the batter to 20 seconds to get ready to hit would save around 10 full minutes.
Commercials are unavoidable; post-commercial inaction is very avoidable. Commercial breaks between half-innings (so not including pitching changes) lasted between 1:30 and 1:50. Commercials are a nuisance, but we all concede they’re not going anywhere. What I hadn’t realized is just how much time is spent after the return from the commercial and before the start of play. These gaps in play averaged 50 seconds per commercial. While the announcers fill this space, it’s not fair to blame the broadcast. Pitchers are still warming up, catchers are throwing down to second, and the umpire and batter are milling around. This part of the game is ripe for reduction, and reducing it would save another 10 or so minutes.
Mound conferences and home run trots should be exonerated. The game featured its share of mound conferences, both pitcher-and-catcher tête-à-têtes and formal meetings with the pitching coach. None of these lasted very long, and the longest finished in just under a minute. It seems hard to blame them for delay. Similarly, I heard a radio caller lamenting home runs as causing delay, cursing the showboating players who jogged around the bases. Two Rockies homered on August 24, Nolan Arenado and Mike McKenry, and each made it around the bases and into the dugout in less than 26 seconds. Let the hitter have fun.
Pitching changes take time. A fair bit of time, as it turns out. Of the four mid-inning pitching changes in this game, only one took less than three minutes. The others took longer. Some of this was the manager delaying to signal for the reliever, but much of it was the reliever sauntering in from the outfield. Baseball could shave off a minute from each pitching change if teams resurrected the bullpen carts.
Let’s put a big, bright asterisk on my experiment (read: time-waster): there is practically nothing scientific about this. To call this a small sample size is an insult to small sample sizes. It’s one game played on one day plucked from a very long season. It’s an anecdote, not a sample.
That said, if this game bears any resemblance to an average game, then it seems to me that there are better way to improve the game’s speed than pitch clocks. Pick up the pace between batters, cut out the bumpers after commercials, and shorten the length of time for pitching changes. That would have trimmed roughly 25 minutes off of the August 24 game, pushing it well below three hours.
But why anyone would want to shorten a baseball game is a mystery to me.