If they can save 10 minutes in November ...
So you probably heard about efforts to speed up the games in the Arizona Fall League? Including pitch clocks at one of the ballparks? Well, the results are in:
The average game time of the 16 games played at Salt River, in which the clocks were enforced, was two hours and 42 minutes -- a full 10 minutes quicker than the Fall League average in 2013. A closer look at the numbers shows that extrapolating the average time per plate appearance from the MLB average of 77 plate appearances per game would equate to an even brisker average game time of two hours and 39 minutes.
Non-clock games at other Fall League venues employed a rule that required players to keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout plate appearances, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurred. And the automatic intentional walk was in play at every venue. When a manager called for an intentional walk, the batter automatically took first base instead of standing in for four pitchouts.
With those rules, the average time in games played outside of Salt River was two hours and 46 minutes, or two hours and 43 minutes when calculating the time based on the average plate appearance.
Maybe I’m missing something obvious here, but why not use all the time-saving procedures at Salt River? Either way, I think the conclusion’s pretty obvious: Using all the rules would shave at least 10 minutes from the average game ... which, you know what? Isn’t a lot of minutes, really. In fact, it’s few enough minutes that the Players Association – which has to sign off on any substantive changes, by the way – might just dismiss any changes by citing the relatively small amount of raw time that would be saved. What’s 10 minutes, anyway, where one’s livelihood is concerned?
Which is why I believe that discussing the minutes is largely missing the point. What I would like to know is how many seconds are saved between pitches, because it’s not the time of the games but rather the pace of the play that should, I think, legitimately concern the Lords of Baseball (which now includes the Players of Baseball).
I’ve seen colleagues cite “the shorter attention spans of Americans” as a reason to shorten the games. But wait a minute. Aren’t these the same Americans who happily sit on the couch for a football game that lasts three-and-a-half hours? The same Americans who love to BINGE-WATCH an entire season of Game of Thrones in one weekend? While I agree that Americans’ attention spans have gotten shorter, I think all that means is they want less time between action. And if the action keeps coming, they’ll keep watching. What’s more fun to watch? A crisply played, action-packed game that lasts three hours, or a snooze-fest that goes 2:30? I think the answer is manifest.
Alas, my guess is that we’ll see few or none of these things actually happen. Not soon, anyway. The pitchers don’t want to spend less time thinking about their next pitch (and maybe resting for their next pitch), and the hitters don’t want to be hurried whilst getting their minds all prepared for the next pitch. Sure, you might tell them that all these things will balance out, and that might actually be true.
But that’s not how human beings think. We don’t care about how things will balance for everyone; we think about how something is going to affect us, specifically, today. And what the players know is that they’ve been wildly successful doing things how they’ve done them – remember, it’s largely the wealthy veterans who run the union – and there’s no obvious benefit in doing anything differently. Remember, too, that few players give a tinker’s damn about the long-term health of the sport, or the business; long-term thinking is antithetical to human nature, and especially when you won’t be around in the long term anyway.
My guess: There won’t be any substantive changes along these lines until the television people actually demand substantive changes. Which might actually be happening behind the scenes. But I doubt it, especially considering the new national TV deals run through 2021; that money is locked in. The same isn’t precisely true about the local TV money, which is actually quite a bit larger in most cases. But many of those deals are done, too. And those that aren’t, aren’t likely to move the needle much in terms of player sentiment.
I do think the pace will be sped up, someday. But it’ll take some help from the TV people, it would help a lot if changes were made first in the minor leagues, so young players don’t automatically feel entitled to waste as much time as they like. Actually, why hasn’t this happened already? Major League Baseball can essentially do whatever it wants in (and to) the minor leagues, and usually has. My guess is that this won’t be easy, quick, or pretty. But it certainly has to start somewhere, which probably won’t be with the pampered millionaires who co-run the majors.