Major League Baseball made several changes at the beginning of this resent season in an effort to streamline games and cut down on the time it takes for the average contest. This was a growing problem for Baltimore Orioles games and with most other teams, literally, as the typical nine-inning game had added about 15 minutes on average over the past 25 years. It hit an all-time high in 2014 by averaging over three hours for the first time ever — at an average of 3:02 per game.
Efforts were made to speed up the game by cutting down on the time between innings and keeping players in the batter’s box. The first of these items definitely helped the entire situation, though I don’t believe the second was very seriously enforced, nor did it contribute much.
But overall, the games did go faster in 2015, as the average dropped six minutes to 2:56. That’s a start, though I would like to see more done to keep batters in the box as well as quicken the work of pitchers.
Another statistic for the MLB season that I found interesting is one that may have worked in the opposite direction of speeding up games. And that relates to the average number of pitchers used in a game. For the first time ever, the overall average in MLB went above four pitchers per team, per game to that of 4.11 — up from 3.98 in 2014. As recently as just a decade ago, it was closer to 3.50 per game.
More frequent pitching changes add time to games as the player comes in from the bullpen and warms up. Of course, this rise in pitchers per game relates to the increasing value upon bullpen specialists and the shut-down, final innings relief corps. This is a clear trend in the game.
Looking back earlier in the history of the game of baseball, 1990 was the first year that the average number of pitchers per game grew to over three. And looking back even more, prior to 1946 the average was under two pitchers per game for a team.
Another statistic that demonstrates the greater role of relief pitching and specialists is the total number of pitchers used by an average team over the course of the season. More teams are doing what the Orioles have mastered in recent years — using AAA and AA as an extension of the roster and optioning players back and forth. In 2015, the average number of pitchers per team was 27.0, a new record high. Never before had there been a season over 25 (with 2014 having the next highest number at 24.8). And prior to 1995, the average team used less than 20 pitchers over the course of a season.
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Going into 2015, another worry about games getting longer involved the new replay system. However, statistically this cannot be actually supported as lengthening games. The average manager actually only challenges about once in every four games, although umpires may also initiate more replays. The average replay was a bit under two minutes, with 47% of replays resulting in the call being overturned.
I believe it can be successfully argued that the replay system has probably helped speed up the game, as there are less nasty umpire/manager fights that go on and on after a disputed call. The system is far from perfect and is not pervasively popular, but Baseball will work on improving it over time.
Without doubt, baseball is always evolving, and that is why it truly is America’s game.