Before the 2015 season started, Major League Baseball made a major push to speed up the game. MLB did not go as drastic as some wanted and more so than some (read David Ortiz) liked. A half a season has gone by and most of the reports about the pace of the game were from early April. Let's take a look at what a half season has brought.
The emphasis placed on pace of the game has made a difference. The average game this season across the board is 2:57. That is a full ten minutes shorter per game than last year and the first time the average game has been under three hours since 2011.
Last year set a record for slowness. Baseball started keeping track of game times permanently in 1920. The average game back then was 1:51. Imagine how much earlier you would get to bed on those game recaps!
In 2014, every team in baseball except for the Seattle Mariners averaged over three hours per game. And the Mariners were at 2:59. A full third of all teams (ten of them) averaged over three hours and ten minutes per game. The Rays were the slowest at 3:19 and the Red Sox were next at 3:17. The Yankees were one of the ten at 3:12 minutes per game.
This season, only ten teams are averaging over three hours a game. That was the same amount as those who averaged over 3:10 last year. No team is averaging over three hours and ten minutes.
Of the ten teams that are averaging over three hours a game this season, they are from longest to shortest: Diamondbacks (3:07), Tigers (3:07), Yankees (3:05), Rockies (3:04), Boston and the Dodgers at 3:03, the Cubs and the Pirates at 3:01 and Texas and Cleveland at three hours even.
So how are the Rays doing since they were the slowest last year? They are a poster child for the commissioner. The Rays have dropped from a whopping 3:19 and have gone down to an average this year of 2:56. That is a drop of 23 minutes per game!
Of course, sometimes changing players will make a difference. David Price has long been one of the slowest starting pitchers in baseball. He leads all pitchers with a pace of 26.2 seconds after leading last year at 26.6 a year ago. Apparently, Price did not get the memo.
The Rays also had Joel Peralta in the bullpen last year. That man is a human rain delay. He led all pitchers with a pace of 32.2 seconds. He is still over 30 seconds this year, but has made only thirteen appearances and doesn't qualify. Losing players such as Price, Peralta and even Jeremy Hellickson has helped the Rays' pace, if not the quality of the team. Hellickson is the slowest starter in baseball this season behind only Price.
The Yankees have only dropped seven minutes per game. And that is despite losing Hiroki Kuroda, a notoriously slow starting pitcher (pace of 25.2 seconds last year). The team's starting pitching has been slow. Nathan Eovaldi has a pace of 23.1., Michael Pineda is also at 23.1 tying them both for 18th slowest in the league. CC Sabathia at 22.8 is 24th. Adam Warren was at 22.1 and was tied for 34th before he went to the bullpen.
Of the Yankees' batters, Alex Rodriguez is tied for 19th slowest among qualifying MLB hitters at 23.6. Then it drops all the way to Brett Gardner, who is tied for 50th at 22.7. Didi Gregorius is tied for 80th at 22 seconds. All the rest of the regulars are way down below that.
Looking at the pace of the Yankees' pitchers and hitters, they would appear to be in decent shape and yet the team's games are slower than most. Can such team slowness have a smoking gun? I think so and I think the lack of length by the starting pitchers is the culprit.
The Yankees are currently 25th out of 30 MLB teams in starter innings. The starters are averaging just a tick over five and two-thirds innings this season. Contrast that with, say, the Cardinals, an NL team that has its starters averaging two-thirds of an inning longer on average.
The Yankee bullpen has thrown the seventh most innings pitched this season and the fifth most pitches. And this is a pretty common culprit. Of the ten slowest teams this year, six of them are in the top ten for reliever innings pitched.
Just as an aside, the four slowest batters in baseball are Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, both with a pace over 26 seconds followed by Odubel Herrera and Robinson Cano at 25+ seconds. For those who wondered if the new rules would force Cano to speed it up, they haven't. As for grumbler, David Ortiz...he has actually shaved two seconds off his pace from a year ago. At least he is abiding despite his grumbles.
The emphasis on speeding up the game has taken some good strides this season. Shaving ten minutes from the average MLB game is a nice accomplishment. The new rules have saved baseball fans 207 hours thus far this season. That is a lot of hours! Yankee fans are only going home or to bed seven minutes earlier. But I am sure that few actually care. After all, this is a bottom line kind of fan base.
Photography by William J. Tasker