Over the winter, Rob Manfred made it clear that eliminating dead-time between pitches was one of his foremost concerns as Commissioner. The league experimented with a pitch clock during Spring Training, and fines were threatened at players who delayed the game unnecessarily. After the first game of the season, I looked at whether the changes worked on Day 1, and found that indeed, the pace of play was noticeably improved.
But that was based on a sample of 15 games. Often, people will obey new rules for a little while, then go back to doing things the old way. A reduction in time between pitches on Opening Day didn’t mean that we were going to see the same on any other day. But now, we’re nearly at the end of April, and Major League Baseball has played 290 games, so we have roughly 20 times the sample now of the last check-in. This still won’t be definitive, but league averages stabilize very quickly, and structural changes like this usually don’t take too long to show up. So, what’s up with the pace of play in MLB now?
The rules are working. The average time between pitches this year is 22 seconds, down a full second from last year’s mark, and roughly back to where the league was in 2012; if this continues all year, MLB will have managed to reverse three years of ever-slowing baseball in a single season.
Again, one second per pitch isn’t going to sound like a lot, but the sheer quantity of pitches makes these small differences add up. In the games played to date, MLB has seen 83,633 pitches thrown, or an average of 288 pitches per game. Shaving a second per pitch of dead time has translated to a reduction of almost five minutes per game.
MLB’s average time of game is down from 3:07 to 2:58 this year, so the majority of the nine minute reduction has come from shrinking the time between pitches. And they’ve managed to cut off those nine minutes while run scoring is actually up slightly, with total runs per game moving from 8.13 last year to 8.33 this year. The duel goals of increasing offense without extending game length seems like polarizing goals, but it is possible to do both at the same time, and so far this year, MLB is balancing those two priorities nicely.
It’s still only a few weeks of baseball, and this could all still wear off as the year goes along. But the early returns are excellent, and we should give some kudos to MLB for giving us all five minutes of our lives back without materially changing the game on the field. This isn’t mission accomplished, but it’s a pretty encouraging first step in the right direction.