MLB games are lasting longer and longer, despite attempts from Commissioner Rob Manfred to speed up the game. According to Baseball Reference, the average length of a game has increased from two hours and 51 minutes in 1990 to over three hours so far this year.
The first major attempt took place after the 2016 season when MLB removed the requirement to throw four intentional balls for an intentional walk. Instead, the manager of the team on the field just needs to signal that he wants to send the batter to first base. However, this didn’t help speed up games. The average length of a game in 2016 was exactly three hours; in 2017, the average length was three hours and five minutes.
Before the 2018 season, the number of mound visits a team had in a game was limited to six. This did help with the pace of games, and the average time of a contest decreased back to the 2016 mark. As a result of this progress, the number of mound visits was limited to five before this season.
MLB has also considered the installation of a pitch clock in the major leagues. A 20-second pitch timer has been used in the minor leagues since 2015 and was implemented into spring training games this season. According to Baseball America, Manfred has said he can unilaterally impose a pitch timer for the regular season, but he’d rather come to an agreement with the MLB Players Association.
Another new rule is the shortening of commercial breaks before the 2018 season. The new length is two minutes and five seconds compared to two minutes and 25 seconds in the past.
However, these aren’t enough. The average length of games this season is three hours and seven minutes — which would be the second-longest time in MLB history. There are still measures that can be implemented to get the average time of games under three hours, a number that hasn’t been seen since 2011.
One suggestion MLB should consider is a three-batter minimum for pitchers. In recent years, more teams have relief pitchers who are supposed to only face one batter. This means that more time is spent on having pitchers warming up on the mound, which extends the average length of games. A three-batter minimum would decrease the number of pitching changes that are made, especially in the middle of innings.
However, the three-batter minimum would remove a key tactic from managers. In games that could decide playoff spots, a pitcher coming in to face one batter is crucial. And there are pitchers who make their living off just facing one batter, like Javier Lopez, who pitched effectively in the majors for 14 years from 2003-2016. In 839 career games, he faced on average less than three batters each time, but was a key part in the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 because of his ability to come in and get the big out.
Another proposal that could work is a two-minute time limit for replay reviews. Since the current replay system was installed before the 2014 season, there have been numerous times that a call has been reviewed for several minutes, which in turn slows down the game. If the umpires can’t see definitively that the original call cannot be overturned after two minutes, then the call should stand.
CBS Sports suggested in 2016 that managers should not be allowed to challenge calls because they can stop the game temporarily only to not review a play. The article also suggests that one replay umpire should be assigned to each game, and if that umpire sees something that should be reviewed, then he’ll alert the on-field umpires.
One more idea MLB could attempt is the installation of a runner on base at the start of each extra inning. This concept was installed prior to the 2015 season in the minor leagues, and could be useful in the major leagues. There are stretches in MLB contests where runs are hard to come by, so making it more likely for a run to score could speed up the games and prevent them from going on until late in the night. According to the Virginian-Pilot, the average time of an extra inning game in the minors in 2018 was three hours and 16 minutes, which was 16 minutes faster than in 2017.
Commissioner Manfred has made rule changes to try to speed up baseball games. While some of them have been initially successful, some have not. If MLB is serious about wanting baseball games to end quicker, then there’s more that needs to be done.
Contact Joshua Gingrich at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more sports coverage, contact the sports desk on Twitter at @TheBreezeSports.