More Nonsense on Time of Game

Today, Ken Rosenthal wrote about a conversation he had with Frank Robinson, who has been tasked by Bud Selig with trying to get a few teams to shorten the length of their games. As Rosenthal notes, MLB has been trying to do this for years, and with no success. They send memos, they ask nicely, umpires complain to the media, and none of it matters.

And yet, somehow, they continue to miss the obvious – they cannot make the games shorter unless they reduce offensive levels. It is a simple fact that run scoring is the main driver of the length of a baseball game. You will never go to a 13-10 slugfest that moves at a brisk pace. The only way for games to end is for 51 or or more outs to be recorded, and every time a batter reaches base safely, he’s extended the time of game without contributing towards its finish.

Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox games always take longer than everyone else. Guess what? The Red Sox score more runs than any other team in baseball, and the Yankees are right behind them. This shouldn’t be any kind of surprise to Robinson, or anyone else in Major League Baseball.

The Yankees and Red Sox have something else in common, of course – an offensive philosophy that values selective hitters. Boston’s hitters see 4.07 pitchers per plate appearance, most in baseball. With hitters like J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz, the Red Sox have built an offense that was designed to make pitchers work. The Yankees do the same, always loading their line-up with high walk, high power guys who don’t swing very often.

This style of baseball is naturally going to take longer than the Royals or Giants swing-at-anything approach. Guess what, Mr. Robinson? You can’t issue a memo that orders Nick Swisher to swing at pitches out of the strike zone.

If you want Boston and New York (as well as the rest of the league) to play quicker games, you have one option, and one option only – make the strike zone bigger. Over the years, it has steadily shrunk, especially on the high side, where nothing over the belt is a strike anymore. The shrinking strike zone has allowed selective hitters to keep the bat on their shoulders until they get a pitch they can drive, and no amount of complaining about it is going to make them adopt a less effective approach to scoring runs.

Nothing else they do will matter. The only way to shorten a Major League game is to make the strike zone bigger. Until they decide to do that, the rest of this is just posturing.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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The Hit Dog
12 years ago

God I hate Joe West.

Matt Defalco
12 years ago
Reply to  The Hit Dog