Sunday, October 5, 2014

Final MLB Pace Stats


At the beginning of the baseball season,  I observed that the games had become slower than ever, with less happening on the field than at any point except 1968. Now that the season is over, the final numbers are in, and things only got worse as the summer progressed. I saved data from all 2,430 box scores from ESPN, including the score, innings, number of pitches and strikes, and game time. From this, a number of interesting statistics can be found.

The average game time remained at 3:08 (3:07:48 to be precise) - ignore any other sites that report 3:02 as that is the average 9-inning game. The ridiculous length of games is what most media outlets report on as it is the easiest figure to understand, but that doesn't tell the whole story. I use pitches per minute (PPM) to quantify the pace of a baseball game and this season saw the lowest figure ever at 1.545 - this number was at 1.692 in 2009 when the average game was 2:55. The number of pitches per game was 290.1, around the average since 1998, so the slower pace is mostly a result of the games taking longer rather than less pitches.

With pitching getting better and strikeouts at record levels, the average number of runs per game was 8.13, the lowest figure since 1981 when 8 runs were scored in an average game. With the longer games though, the average number of runs per hour was only 2.598, the lowest figure ever. In other words, the 2014 baseball season had the least amount of action for the time spent at the ballpark in history.

As I have pointed out before, few fans really care about this as they are casual observers who pay scant attention to the action on the field and leave the game whenever it suits them rather than staying until the end. But the powers that be are aware that games are taking far too long and are using the upcoming Arizona Fall League to test a number of rules that should shorten games. I'll do this study again next year to see if there is a significant improvement.

Slowest and Fastest Games and Teams

Slowest-paced game: Atlanta's 5-4 win over Milwaukee on May 22 when 273 pitches took 3 hours and 36 minutes for a PPM of 1.264.

Fastest-paced game: Minnesota's 7-0 shutout of Toronto on April 22 when 295 pitches took just 2:38 for a PPM of 1.867.

Toronto had the quickest PPM at 1.622 while Colorado was the slowest at 1.495. Tampa Bay had the longest games, averaging 3:18:30, while Seattle had the shortest at 2:58:30, exactly 20 minutes less per game and the only club to finish under the three hour mark.

Another way to measure the pace of the game is to divide the game time by the number of innings. The worst game was the Rangers at Mets on July 4, when 8½ innings took 4:08, over 29 minutes for each inning. I attended this game, and there was an injury early on when Jon Niese was hit by a batted ball, but even after that, the game just dragged on and on and on. The Mets won 6-5, making it the longest 8.5 inning game with less than 13 runs in MLB history. I stopped going to MLB games after this one.

Interestingly, Niese started one of the quickest games, again at Citi Field. On August 1, the Giants beat Niese and the Mets 5-1 in a game that took only 2:06, or exactly 14 minutes per inning. This number was matched by the Blue Jays 1-0 home win over Seattle on September 24 which took 1:59, the only full game to come in under 2 hours this season.

The most common game time was 3:02, which happened 60 times, while 43.6% of games came in under 3 hours, while 17.4% of contests lasted longer than 3:30.

The total amount of time taken for all 2,430 MLB games was 456,331 minutes, which equates to almost 317 days.

Throwing Strikes

I also analysed the percentage of strikes thrown in each game to see how much of an advantage teams that threw more strikes had. Teams throwing a higher percentage of strikes won 60% of games, not as dominant as I would have expected. But in many cases, the difference is so slight (less than 5%) that it is not significant, sometimes just one or two strikes. I removed those games from the analysis, which left 987 games to consider. The team that threw more strikes won 68% of those. So yes, throwing strikes is important, but not as much as you might expect.

Washington threw the highest percentage of strikes at 66.1% while the White Sox were worst in the majors at 62.5%. The top 4 teams in this category made the playoffs (Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis along with the Nationals) but other playoff teams were in the middle of the pack, with the Angels at 63% ranking 26th overall.

There were 704,905 pitches thrown this past season, with 450,804 strikes (63.95%). Home teams threw 64.27% of strikes compared to 63.62% of visiting teams. Umpire bias or are pitchers just that little bit better at home?

The game with the highest percentage of strikes was on May 20 when St. Louis beat Arizona 5-0 behind an Adam Wainwright 1-hitter, with 166 of the 221 total pitches being strikes (75.1%). Brian O'Nora was the home plate umpire that game, and he happens to be the umpire who calls the most "incorrect" strikes in the majors. The game with the lowest percentage of strikes saw Minnesota beat KC 10-1 on April 11 when seven hurlers combined to throw 330 pitches and only 178 strikes (53.9%). In terms of a single team, Cleveland's Corey Kluber threw 81.1% strikes in his 3-hit win over Seattle on July 30, while five Cincinnati pitchers only tossed 81 strikes out of 169 pitches (47.9%) in a 5-0 loss to Milwaukee on September 24.

I could go on with dozens more meaningless statistics which I find fascinating but few others do. Still, I hope you found this post somewhat enlightening. Baseball is the best sport for statistical analysis and there are always new ways to think about the game, not just in terms of the action on the field, but how long the action takes. Here's hoping that MLB speeds up the game in 2015.

Playoff Update

I wrote this as Detroit was being eliminated by Baltimore in the ALDS. That game saw only 260 pitches but took an incredible 3:41 - a PPM of 1.176, the lowest in the last six years (I only have pitch stats going back that far) and probably in history. Yes, the slowest paced game in MLB history! I am pretty sure I am the only person to have figured this out. The overall PPM through the 32 playoff games: 1.338, 13% slower than the slowest regular season ever, thanks to more commercials. Fortunately the Royals and Giants finished the season on a high note, with a relatively short game that happened to the be the playoff tilt with the highest percentage of strikes thrown (71.4%). Madison Bumgarner's legendary 5-inning save already has fans dreaming of spring training. I hope that baseball is able to institute some changes to speed up the pace of the game. If they do, I'll start visiting the ballpark again.

As an aside, I spent my afternoon watching the NFL on Sunday Ticket and not a single one of those games, even those that went to overtime, lasted longer than 3:30 (New Orleans win over Tampa Bay took 3:29). So much more happens in a typical NFL game, it is no wonder that baseball is no longer popular among younger fans. The sport is dying in front of our eyes. Will anyone bother to try to save it?

Best,

Sean

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