Thursday, July 3, 2014

MLB Getting Slower and Slower and Slower...


With the World Cup on a two-day break, I headed back to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, against my better judgement. The Rays were in town to close out a three-game series and if you read this blog on occasion, you know that the Rays are by far the slowest team in the game.

Using my soon-to-be-world-famous metric, Pitches Per Minute (PPM), which simply divides the number of pitches by the number of minutes in a game to give you an idea of the pace, the Rays are last in MLB at 1.483. The quickest team is the Blue Jays at 1.642, meaning the typical Toronto tilt runs at a pace 10% faster than an average Rays game, helped by Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey who are fast workers. (As a benchmark, a three-hour game with 300 pitches has a PPM of 1.67, while the fastest-paced season was in 2004 when PPM was 1.711.) Still, I love afternoon baseball and had found a cheap ticket on StubHub an hour before the game, so I ignored the evidence and went to the ballpark hoping for the best, only to be brutally punished for my optimism.

The Rays won 5-3 in a game that lasted 3:32 and featured 9 pitchers. Joe Maddon made two stupid challenges that were clearly correctly called by the umps, adding another five minutes to my misery. I can't stand the way he slowly shuffles out, like 40,000 fans have nothing better to do than watch him question the umpires. Both times it was immediately obvious that he was wrong. Aargh! Maddon leads the majors with 28 challenges, of which only 10 have been overturned (35%). No wonder Tampa games are so slow. By the end of it, 321 pitches had been thrown over those 212 minutes, a PPM of 1.514, actually slightly faster than a typical Rays game but still a very slow pace.

Having this horrible team play excruciatingly slow baseball in Tropicana Field is a bad idea on all fronts. There is a reason that Tampa Bay fans stay away in droves - they want to be excited in the outdoors, not lulled to sleep in that cavernous ballpark by another pitching change, pickoff move, or batting glove adjustment. The baseball gods have had enough of maddening Maddon and Tampa suffers in last place because of it, even after a five-game winning streak.

Updated PPM Stats

At the beginning of the season, I wrote a detailed post on just how slow MLB games have become. Now that the season is half over (1268 of the 2430 games have been played), I thought I'd update those stats to see if maybe April was a bit of an outlier. Sadly, it wasn't.

The average game time remains at 3:08, the longest in history. Only 44% of games are under 3 hours, and only 5.5% under 2:30. Unfortunately, the average number of pitches per game, which was 296 early in the season, has dropped to 292.6. The PPM has therefore also dropped to 1.555. In other words, the pace of an average MLB game has declined by 9% since 2004.

The statistic that should really get you thinking though is Runs Per Hour (RPH). Simply put, RPH is the number of runs that you see for every hour you sit at the ballpark. Unlike PPM, which requires reliable pitching data (only available from 1997), RPH can be calculated as long as game times have been recorded. I realize that this is not a perfect stat for measuring excitement, but generally fans come to see runs, and with pitching dominating these days, they are not getting many of them, especially considering that they need to spend an extra 30-45 minutes to watch an entire game.



In April, RPH was 2.672, about the same as the 1968 season, which is famous for being dominated by pitching and led to the lowering of the mound in 1969. Now, RPH has dropped to 2.635, the lowest on record. In other words, Major League Baseball is suffering through its least exciting season, as you can see in the graph above (which only includes seasons from 1955 onward). As recently as 2006, RPH was 3.4; in just eight years the number of runs per hour has dropped 22.5%!

Don't be fooled by the MLB hype, you are seeing less runs for every minute of action then at any time in baseball history. It is easy to obscure this fact in highlight packages, and don't expect the drooling baseball media who worship the game to investigate this claim either. If you love baseball, you know that the game is simply not the same as it was just a decade ago and you are probably not happy about it.

With the World Cup showing fans that soccer may not be as boring as first thought, baseball is in trouble. Not right now of course, I am talking years down the road. If the MLS can get its act together, soccer could overtake baseball in popularity within a generation or two. A two-hour soccer game with 2 or 3 goals is more appealing than a four-hour baseball game with 2 or 3 runs, right?

Best,

Sean

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