There are few people I know that like baseball as much as Jeff Sullivan. I’m continually jealous of the way he can see things that I can’t see in the game, spotting little details that make for fantastic stories, and engaging with aspects of the sport that most people gloss over. While some may like the history of the game, or the ability to parse all the information it provides, Jeff is one of those who you can say truly enjoys the game on the field.
With that said, here’s Jeff’s take on last night’s game, as he was live-blogging as it went down.
Jeff wasn’t just being grumpy. August Fagerstrom, who was at the game in person, said this in our postgame chat about who was covering what.
If Game Two of the 2016 World Series was a movie, it would have 0% on Rotten Tomatoes this morning. Even with Jake Arrieta carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, that was not a display of baseball at its best. This was a four hour and four minute contest that featured a grand total of six runs over nine innings, and Major League Baseball needs to spend some serious time trying to make sure that they don’t offer up many more games like that to the general public.
As Jeff sarcastically noted, a good amount of last night’s slog can be blamed on Trevor Bauer, who struggled with his control and ran deep counts on nearly every batter he faced. Bauer threw 87 pitches to just 18 batters, averaging 4.8 pitches per batter faced. And to make matters worse, Bauer spent a lot of time standing around not throwing, even though he’s not normally a slow worker; he averaged 26.7 seconds between pitches last night, up from his 20.7 second regular season average. Bauer worked slowly, missed the zone, and when he tried to put Cubs hitters away, they fouled him off constantly. It was not a lot of fun to watch.
But Bauer wasn’t the only issue last night. He only threw 87 of the 357 pitches delivered, and no one else was exactly fun to watch either. Even Arrieta managed to suck the drama out of a postseason no-hitter attempt by walking the bases loaded in the first inning, running up his pitch count to the point where it was obvious he wasn’t going to get anywhere near the ninth inning whether Cleveland got a hit off him or not.
Even the vaunted Indians bullpen was tough to watch. Bryan Shaw made even the one big inning boring, issuing back to back walks in the fifth inning, first to load then bases, then to score the Cubs fifth run of the game. Danny Salazar followed with an inning of work that saw him throw 19 pitches, but only eight strikes. Jeff Manship threw 15 pitches and got one out. The Indians might have held the Cubs to five runs, but it was a pretty ugly night of pitching from the Cleveland side, and made for one of the least enjoyable games to watch as a spectator you could imagine.
Including the postseason, MLB has now had 18 different nine inning games that lasted at least four hours this year. As you’d guess, most of these affairs are high scoring contests, slugfests that involve a bunch of action plays, at least. 15 of the 18 four-hour, nine-inning games saw double digit run totals, and the average for the 18 games was 16 runs scored between the two teams. With only six runs scored, last night’s game was the lowest scoring four-hour, nine-inning game of the season. To put the lack of action in context, here are some “fun” metrics from those 18 games this year.
Even among the games that took forever, this one stands out from the crowd. In the other 17 games, a run was scored, on average, every 17.6 minutes; last night, a run was scored every 41 minutes. Viewers had to sit through 60 pitches for every run scored last night, versus an average of 25 pitches per run in the previous four-hour, nine-inning contests. Forget comparing this to even a regular game; this was painful even by slow-game standards. That this happened in the World Series, when MLB is trying to put its best foot forward, is not a good look for Major League Baseball.
And it’s a reminder that a lot of the gains made with the pace of play initiatives in 2015 were wiped out in 2016. In the 2014 postseason, teams averaged 25.4 seconds between pitches, but after MLB told the players to work faster, that dropped to 23.1 seconds last postseason; this year, they’ve split the difference, at 24.3 seconds between pitches. It’s still faster than it was in 2014, but it looks like the league’s attempts to speed up the game took two steps forward, but have now taken one step back.
Some of last night’s slowness can’t be legislated away. You can’t make Trevor Bauer throw strikes, or tell Ben Zobrist to stop fouling off pitches. There’s not much the league can do about each batter seeing 4.4 pitches in an at-bat; that’s just a combination of patient hitters and pitchers struggling with their command. That’s going to happen sometimes.
And despite Bauer’s early exit, we can’t really blame last night’s pace on too many pitching changes. The Cubs only used three pitchers the whole game, so even with the Indians leaning on their bullpen, we only saw 10 pitchers used last night. Expanded bullpens are an issue for MLB’s desire to move the game along in general, but they weren’t a specific issue last night.
Really, the targetable issue here remains time between pitches. The league showed they could make a tangible difference in game pace in 2015 when the rules were emphasized, and the next logical step might be implementing the pitch clock that is already in use in the minor leagues. Reducing the time between pitches at least makes the game feel like it’s moving along, and improves the product even when the pitchers are struggling to throw strikes.
Game One of the World Series was great, and displayed some of the best things about the sport. Game Two was a lot less great, and when the World Series is being described as boring by those who love it most, the league has a problem to address. Hopefully that one ends up as the dud of the series, and we get some better baseball over the weekend. And maybe, if we’re lucky, Game Two of the World Series will be the reminder that everyone needs to take the pace of play initiatives more seriously than they did this year.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.