Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Are baseball games too long?

Out of all the major North American team sports, baseball is different from all the others, it's the only one without a clock. Some see that as an issue, essentially driving away a younger demographic that is used to constant action, constant stimulation. As the average fan gets older, younger fans must be drawn to the grand old game. The factors leading to the decline of new fans aren't as clear cut as they may seem, competition for the entertainment dollar is as high as it's ever been.

Rob Manfred has pointed out that the NFL, over the last 30 years, has taken over from baseball as the most popular sport in the U.S. That gap, according to a recent Harris poll, has reached 21%, up from 1% in 1985. Little League participation has dropped from 3 million to 2.4 million. Nielsen ratings show that over 50% of viewers are 55 years of age or older.

One of the reasons given for the drop, is the length of time it takes to play the game. In 1972 the average game took 2 and a half hours, last year the average game took 3 hours and 8 minutes. To be clear, Manfred is more concerned about the pace of the games and more than the length. Many suggestions have been put forth to speed up the pace of games and to shorten the time it takes to complete them.

Let's look at some of the ideas.

Automatic Intentional Walks
Instead of physically throwing 4 pitches outside for an IBB, a pitcher would just point to first and the batter would take first. I don't think this would save a massive amount of time. 932 IBB were issued last season, about once every 2 1/2 games. Also the on deck batter may take up any extra time saved in getting ready for his AB.

Pitch Clocks
They experimented with these in various leagues. The rule being, that a pitcher has 12 seconds to throw the pitch with no runners on base and 20 seconds when there are runners on the base paths. In the leagues that used the pitch clocks, after a period of adjustment, there seemed to be no negative effect to the game itself.

Stop the batters from stepping out of the box during an at bat.
Basically a batter must keep one foot in the box at all times and be prepared to receive the pitch within a set time frame. Players aren't to keen on this one, claiming a disruption in routine affects their performance. Others claim it's a nervous habit ( adjusting gloves, jockstraps, practice swings etc) that keeps them from entering the box.

Cut the time for replay challenges to 30 seconds.
Too much, time goes by, while the manager waits, for a coach in the booth to check all the angles, and relay the message to challenge or not to challenge

Limit the number of visits and the time of those visits to the mound by managers, coaches, and catchers.
This one could be a tough one to regulate. Pitchers get rattled and need to refocus. Sometimes they need to be told that the cutter just ain't biting today the way it normally does.

Cut down the time in between innings.
Back in 1977, the time it took the offensive team and the defensive team to switch and start the next 1/2 inning was 105 seconds. It's now much longer and allows more TV commercial time. Doubt that's gonna change. Money rules baby.

Switch to 7 inning games
The Blue Jays own GM Ross Atkins suggested this one as he would " love to know the impact" of such a change. Whether tongue in cheek or he's lost his mind, it doesn't matter, it'll never happen. Although The European Golf Tour will be featuring some 6 hole golf tournaments this year, to attract a younger crowd.

Start any extra inning game with a runner on second
This is already done in some international tournaments but is only done in the 10th inning and later so it really doesn't affect the pace of a 9 inning game. So forget that for an MLB game.

My opinion? If I was worried about the length of time a sporting event infringing on my day, I'd go to a hockey or basketball game. I like taking my time. It's not about speed, it's about enjoyment.