Just over one week into the 2018 Major League Baseball season, with a total of 106 games played, there is one very noticeable change to the game. Announcers, umpires, and teams are keeping a close eye on mound visits by coaches and players. This is due to the offseason rule change which limits mound visits (where there is no pitching change) by each team to just 6 in the first nine innings of play. According to executives in New York, this was done to further MLB’s goal of increasing the pace of play and to decrease the average time of a 9-inning game. So, after just one week, can we tell if the mound visit rule is having an impact on the time it takes to complete a MLB game?
Across the majors, 106 games have been played so far. Obviously, 106 games is a small sample size compared to the 2,430 games that will be played during this baseball season. However, what we know as of right now is that the average length of a 9-inning game has clocked in at 3 hours so far this year. That is down from the all time high of 3 hours and 5-minute mark set last year. Overall, games are, on average, five minutes quicker, however, that decrease shouldn’t be chalked up to the implementation of the mound visit rule. There are many factors that can play into the length of a baseball game, not the least of which is weather conditions. It is important to note that cold weather games tend to take less time than others because less runs are scored. Taking that into consideration, runs per game are down 1/2 a run for 2018 compared to 2017. That, more likely than not, is the reason for the slightly quicker games so far this year.
On the other hand, why is it that MLB seems determined to speed up a game that does not have a time limit? There is no question that MLB executives are trying to appeal to a younger demographic, (and sell more tickets) but would those folks watch if the game was 10 minutes shorter? Doubtful.
If we look back to the strike shortened 1994 season, the average game drew approximately 31,000 fans. The time for a 9-inning game that year was 2:53. That was almost a quarter century ago, yet the time of game has only increased between 7 and 12 minutes while the average per game attendance number has dropped to approximately 29,000 per game. Just thinking off the cuff here, but perhaps the pace of play isn’t the issue. It seems that by tinkering with the pace of play MLB is trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Judging by some experiments currently taking place in the minor leagues, they may not be finished.
Stats by baseball-reference.com
Photo from theathletic.com