FanPost

Why a pitch clock is the only solution to increased game time

With all due respect to Mr. DeGenz, his 1/19 Rockpile piece is a pretty shoddy argument against baseball having a pitch clock. For starters, the section "Strikeouts Do Matter" has nothing to do with a pitch clock, but everything to do with how baseball has fewer batted balls in play. Incidentally, strikeouts make the game go faster, not slower. The first two sections do present relevant arguments, so we'll focus on them, and, remember, we're trying to explain a 45 minute increase in game time.

The first section "The Length of Games" brings up two points as being the culprits - runs scored and number of pitchers used per game. However, exactly zero statistics are provided by Mr. DeGenz as evidence to support these two theories, which is inexcusable in the age of advanced metrics (how many times has Purple Row brought up the fact that the Rockies' analytics department is practically nonexistent), not to mention the Internet. According to Baseball Reference, from 1950-now, runs scored per game has fluctuated between 4 and 5 runs per game per team, with the exception of 6 years between 1963-1972 dipping below 4 and 3 seasons at the end of the 1990's sneaking above 5. If we were to plot that graph (essentially a flat line), it would not correlate with the rise in game time. We can further debunk the correlation simply by noticing that 1950 averaged 4.85 runs per game and 2021 averaged fewer runs per game at 4.53. Those two pieces of data definitively show that runs scored per game cannot be the reason for longer games.

We can also point out that scoring a run is nothing more than advancing a base and does not actually cause an additional at-bat to occur. At most, scoring a run will add a couple of extra seconds to the end of a play that is already happening. Even a home run doesn't specifically cause an additional at-bat; any base-hit does that.

Now we can discuss if the number of pitchers lengthens games. Like with runs, the number of pitchers used in a game does not directly change the time of the game. Someone has to pitch to the batters. We can easily see this by checking if the number of plate appearances per game per team has increased over time. Using that same Baseball Reference link, plate appearances in 1950 was 38.97. In 2021, it was 37.43. Like with runs, that number has barely changed over the decades, ranging from 37.18 to 39.16 and was higher 70 years ago than today.

What about number of pitches per game? Another Baseball Reference check (link below, from 2010) found the number of pitches per game per team had increased from 135 in 1988 to 146 in 2010. In 2021, pitches per plate appearance averaged 3.91, which works out to 293 pitches total. In 2010, it was 292, meaning it's flatlined over the past 12 years. So, since 1988, we see an additional 22 total pitches per game. With a 20-second pitch clock, that's only 7 extra minutes. 8 minutes if we want to include the pitch itself and the catcher throwing it back. 9 minutes if we assume 2 of those extra pitches are put in play. That leaves 36 minutes to account for.

So, what we're really looking at is pitching changes per game. From 1960-2018, Baseballwithr shows the number going from 2.7 pitchers/game/team in 1960 to 4.3 by 2018. That means 1.5 more per team or 3.0 total in a game. Prior to commercial breaks recently being limited to 2 minutes and 15 seconds by MLB, we could use 3 minutes for easy math. That means pitching changes added 9 minutes per game. Except, that is only if the pitching change occurred in the middle of an inning. It's probably a safe bet that around half of pitching changes occur between innings, but since 9 minutes is the maximum, we'll stick with that. That still leaves 27 minutes of that increased time to account for.

Where the piece makes its biggest mistake is in saying "The problem here isn’t truly the time in between pitches (some pitchers, especially relievers and Yu Darvish, do take way too long to get rid of the ball, though, but it is what it is), but rather the time in between action." Not only is the time in between pitches literally the main culprit for the increase in game time, but the time in between pitches is also the only time during the game when there is no action happening. Despite what people think, a strikeout is action. A walk is action. A pick-off is action. The ball is flying through the air and players are reacting to it. So, let's take a look at the time between pitches.

Grant Brisbee wrote a magnificent piece (link below) where he literally timed everything in a game from 1984 and a game from 2014. Both games featured many of the same attributes - number of mid-inning pitching changes, number of batters, number of pitches, final score. Go read the piece because it's excellent, but the bottom line was the amount of time caused by inaction pitches (he defines inaction pitches as non-hit, non-AB ending, non-runner advancing) was 25 minutes more in 2014 than 1984. That can only be caused by pitchers taking longer to deliver pitches and accounts for nearly all of the remaining 27 minutes we were looking for. As that accounts for most of the pitches in the game, the remaining 2 minutes we are looking for is easily accounted for by the extra time between pitches on all action pitches.

I do agree with Mr. DeGenz on one thing - baseball is a beautiful game that benefits from not being timed. However, I very much disagree that we should let pitchers take as much time as they want. There is a sweet spot of time where, once passed, the fan loses interest in what's going to happen next and, inevitably, the entire game. It's one thing to watch a pitcher take a few seconds to take a breath, set himself on the mound, zero in on the plate, then let loose. That is awesome. It's another to watch Kenley Jansen or Jorge de la Rosa craft legislation or next week's dinner menu entirely in their heads before delivering the next pitch. That is not awesome. Rule 8.04 says the pitcher shall deliver the next pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball, when the bases are unoccupied. 20 seconds is being generous. 21 seconds is when the fan starts to yawn or get annoyed and the popularity of baseball takes a hit.

The final section of Mr. DeGenz's piece is really his only valid argument because it has only to do with how he feels. He doesn't think there should be a pitch clock because he doesn't want one. And that's okay. He even adds this (indirectly) to the idea of a robot strike zone. He wants human error as an element to the game. Personally, I'd rather a game be played by the rules rather than by acting to manipulate umpires (just like when players resort to flopping in basketball, soccer, football, and hockey), since that tells us who is actually the better team, but that is a different conversation. For me, the color is in the players playing baseball or messing up playing baseball, not umpires messing up rules.

For the record, I also enjoy watching strikeouts as much as I enjoy watching balls in play. Both are part of the game. But, I also understand why some people get bored of them. In the end, we all want the same thing - for baseball to appeal to as many people as possible so that it never goes away. I believe that anybody who actually likes baseball doesn't give a damn if the game is 2 and a half hours or 3 hours. But, I also believe that all of those same people would appreciate it if the pitcher would just throw the damned ball already. Considering that our human umpires have never bothered to enforce rule 8.04, the alternative is to have technology do it for them.

Eat. Drink. Be Merry. But the above FanPost does not necessarily reflect the attitudes, opinions, or views of Purple Row's staff (unless, of course, it's written by the staff [and even then, it still might not]).