Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pennant Races and Game Times

The MLB season has 162 games, which divides neatly into three 54-game segments. The first of these has just completed and I wanted to post the standings here. I'll compare them after 108 games, and then near the end of the season.

These standings show each team's record after 54 games. Of course, some teams reach 54 games before others due to scheduling differences, but for comparison purposes, this version works well.

AL East W L GB
Tampa Bay 36 18
New York 34 20 2
Boston 31 23 5
Toronto 31 23 5
Baltimore 15 39 21

AL Central W L GB
Minnesota 31 23
Detroit 28 26 3
Chicago 23 31 8
Kansas City 22 32 9
Cleveland 21 33 10

AL West W L GB
Texas 29 25
Oakland 28 26 1
Los Angeles 26 28 3
Seattle 22 32 7

NL East W L GB
Atlanta 32 22
Philadelphia 30 24 2
Florida 27 27 5
New York 27 27 5
Washington 26 28 6

NL Central W L GB
Cincinnati 31 23
St. Louis 31 23
Chicago 24 30 6
Milwaukee 22 32 9
Pittsburgh 22 32 9
Houston 20 34 11

NL West W L GB
San Diego 32 22
Los Angeles 31 23 1
San Francisco 29 25 3
Colorado 28 26 4
Arizona 20 34 12

The first interesting point is that only two teams were 27-27. There are several very good teams (30 or more wins) and just as many very bad teams (24 wins or less). But it's too early to make any conclusions, this will be more meaningful later in the season.
The pennant races are close, with no lead greater than 3 games. It will be interesting to see if Cincinnati and San Diego can keep up their good play. Out of last year's playoff teams, only 3 would make the playoffs this year (Yankees, Twins and either Dodgers or Cardinals) but the other 5 teams are in the hunt, with Anaheim the only team to be below .500. There's still 108 games left, but it looks like two-team races at this point in the two central divisions.

Toronto is a respectable 31-23 but lies out of the playoff mix as the two best teams are in the same division. They will get more AL East games in the next couple of months, which will probably make or break their season.

I'll update this in early August and we'll see how things have progressed then.

Game Times

If you read regularly, you know that I like fast-paced baseball. Of course, there's the ridiculously long Yankees-Red Sox games that seem to be 4 hours now, which drew the ire of umpire Joe West at the beginning of the season. It is true that those teams are better at working counts but they still take too freaking long to play the game. In the article linked above, Jonathan Papelbon stated:

"Have you ever gone to watch a movie and thought, 'Man, this movie is so good I wish it would have never ended.' That's like a Red Sox-Yankees game. Why would you want it to end?"

"If you don't want to be there, don't be there. Go home. Why are you complaining. I'm not going to sit somewhere I don't want to be. If you go to a movie or any entertainment event and you like it, you're going to stay and watch and you're not going to want it to end. If you don't, then you won't. Why is it such a big deal?"

I'll ignore his arrogance because I certainly don't find their games that thrilling. But he misses the point. I want to be at these games, but I don't want to see posturing, countless mound visits, timeouts after every pitch. Yes, after 3 hours, I would like the game to be over, or tied in extra innings. Let me be clear: I'm happy if a game goes 15 innings and takes 5 hours, because they are playing quickly. But I don't enjoy 9-inning games that last well over 3 hours. Baseball is great because it has a certain pace, a reliable, consistent march through the innings; lose the pace and I lose interest.

You might then wonder how I can sit through 7 hours of cricket in a single day. The answer is action. A day of test cricket might have 96 overs or 576 balls thrown. Over 6 hours of playing time, this is a reasonable level of action.

But a baseball game will have somewhere around 300 pitches thrown in 9 innings. This is 100 pitches per hour, or about 1.67 pitches per minute, which is about right with the inning breaks. If baseball games took 7 hours for 300 pitches, nobody would go. But doubleheaders might have 600 pitches, take 7 hours, and are always great value and popular. So the key is to make sure that my time is being spent watching the players play instead of watching them waste everybody's time.

Comparison of MLB and NPB

My biggest complaint about Japanese baseball is the slowness of the games. I've been to too many 3 1/2 hour games that seem to drag on and on. But I never had any numbers to back it up, other than the NPB's home page which showed the average 9-inning game at 3:09.

So I decided to do some statistical analysis using a small number of games from the two leagues to if there were more pitches in the Japanese games or if there was something else causing the longer game. I should note that it is my perception that Japanese batters don't swing as often and Japanese pitchers nibble more and throw more pitches per batter; it seems that there are more full counts in the NPB, so I expected more pitches in a Japanese game.

Anyway, I chose the 12 NPB games from this weekend (June 5th and 6th). I also chose the 12 longest 9-inning MLB games played on June 5th. I realize that's not many games, but it's a start.

The average game time in Japan was 3:12, 16 minutes longer than the average MLB game. But there were also slightly more pitches per game in Japan: 295 to 290. When you break this down to the number of pitches per minute (PPM) you get 1.54 in Japan and 1.64 in the majors. Which means that the pace of MLB games is only 6.8% faster than what we get here. Not a massive difference (1 pitch every 10 minutes, likely not noticeable to a fan), but certainly noteworthy. So there are more pitches in Japan as I expected, but the games are definitely played at a slower pace too.

In order to see if this is really statistically significant, I'll need to do this for about 100 games for each league. Getting the data is time-consuming, but I'll try to do it over the next week or two and see if anything interesting pops up.

I should note that the other leagues in Japan don't suffer from this. Minor league games, college ball, high school, industrial league; they all play quickly. It's just the NPB that drags things out those extra 10 or 15 minutes and I'm not sure why that is.



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