The 2017 World Series was certainly exciting and it was notable being the first championship for the Houston Astros. But the games tended to be long — especially Game 5 that lasted five hours and 15 minutes. That raises several questions:
- What factors impact the length of a baseball game?
- What are typical times between pitches?
- How do all those extra events such as conferences at the mound, batter asking for time, affect the length of the game?
Here is a recent article describing this game length problem. One interesting statement in this article is that the author believes that “inaction pitches” (pitches not resulting in ball, called or swinging strike that does not end the PA) are the principle villain.
Anyway, here I will explore the 2017 WS game lengths. (I did a previous study on a baseball game times a few years back.) . I won’t completely answer these questions, but hopefully provide some insight. I think Major League Baseball should seriously look at ways of shortening games, since these long games probably have a negative impact on fan interest. (Two-hour MLB games used to be pretty common.)
Using Carson Sievert’s PitchRx package, I downloaded the pitch-by-pitch data for the seven WS games. The pitches component of the download contains the variable sv_id which is a time stamp when each pitch is thrown. We can extract the time in seconds from this variable and by taking differences, we have the time between pitches.
Number of Pitches and Game Length
From previous work, I found that the number of pitches was a good predictor of a game’s length. Here I have plotted the number of pitches (horizontal) against the length of the game (minutes). We note a large variation in game lengths — Game 1 was only 148 minutes contrasted with the 315-minute Game 5.
Time between Pitches
When one looks at time between pitches, there are three different time periods to consider: the time between pitches for a single batter, the time between the last pitch of a batter and the first pitch for the next batter (same inning), and the time between half-innings. Below I am graphing the time between pitches in the same inning as a function of the pitch number — this is Game 1 so Dodgers pitchers correspond to the values in the top of the inning and the Astro pitchers in the bottom of the inning. Note that many of the times are short (between 10 and 20 seconds), but there are a number of values between 30 and 80 seconds. For this particular game, the Dodgers were quicker than the Astros in pitching.
Comparing Two Games
This is a similar graph, but I’m comparing the time between pitch for Games 1 and 3. (Actually Dodgers are blue points in the top graph and red in the bottom graph.) I see a general tendency for the time between pitches to increase towards the end of each game.
Times between Pitches — Within and Between Batters
Next I focus on comparing the time between pitchers for the same batter and the time between pitches on different batters. There is quite a difference — pitches are only (on the average) 20-25 seconds apart for the same batter, but pitches between batters can average 40-50 seconds part. There are differences between games — there seem to be larger delays between batters for the 10/27 game.
Differences between Pitchers
Of course, it is interesting to compare the time between pitches for different pitchers. Here is a parallel boxplot display where I have ordered the pitchers by median of time between pitches for the same batter. It is interesting that three of the Dodger starters (Kershaw, Hill, and Wood) are the fastest to deliver, while some of the closers such as Jansen and Giles are among the slowest.
Advice to Major League Baseball
I didn’t work on this study for that long, but I think MLB could commission a larger study to better understand the factors that influence the lengths of current baseball games. In other words, what is driving the increased games of games? I don’t think MLB wants to change the basic rules (nine innings, three outs an inning), but there are other types of events (such as catcher/pitcher meetings, timeouts during a PA, challenges) that could be modified through rules. For example, could the number of catcher-pitcher conferences be reduced? All of the relevant variables are not available in the pitchFX file, but I suppose additional variables could be added to the data by watching the video of the game. I think MLB has to seriously consider changes such as game length that would make the game more enjoyable to watch.