Last season, the Tigers' longest game lasted six hours and 37 minutes. You remember the one. For 19 innings, the Tigers and Blue Jays went back and forth. Well, for the first half, at least. Deadlocked at five after nine innings, the two clubs went scoreless for another nine before the Jays walked off in the bottom of the 19th inning. "A waste of a Sunday afternoon," some called it. "A complete waste of a Sunday afternoon," said the rest.
This was the exception, though. The Tigers played nine games longer than four hours in 2014, and seven went to extra innings. Conversely, they played 17 games shorter than two hours, 45 minutes, and another 32 that finished in under three hours. While that sounds nice, also consider that there were 116 games that took three hours or longer to finish.
What am I trying to get at with these facts? Nothing, really. At the risk of burying the lede, the pace of baseball has become one of the more scrutinized aspects of the game in recent years. This offseason, Major League Baseball is doing something about it. They instituted a pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League, and deemed that it was successful enough to start using it in Double and Triple-A leagues next season.
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi dropped that bomb late Wednesday evening. Once the rest of the internet learned about it on Thursday morning, the takes came in fast and hot. Some people loved it, some people hated it. Like most things involving radical change, there wasn't much of a middle ground. Nobody is ambivalent about a pitch clock in baseball. It's like living in the midwest and not having an opinion about Big Ten football or cheese.
Over at SB Nation, Grant Brisbee pointed out that the average length of a baseball game has increased by over 45 minutes since 1950. That's a significant length of time. However, most of what he (and everyone else) said is concerned with the actual pacing of the game.
Here's a one-run game from September between two division rivals. That description should make you interested right away -- it seems like the template for a fantastic, memorable game. In the ninth inning, with the home team down by one, the closer for the Tigers came into the game. It should have been aerosol insanity in that stadium.
It was boring. It was dreadfully boring. Joe Nathan threw a first-pitch strike to Mike Moustakas. It took him 27 seconds after receiving the ball to throw the next pitch. After throwing a ball, Nathan took 23 seconds before delivering his next pitch. Moustakas stepped out, stepped in. Nathan looked in, shook off, caught butterflies, made a wish after blowing away dandelion spores ... it was interminable. It was so bad, I made a note to write about it in the offseason.
While I respectfully disagree with what Brisbee had to say, I get where he's coming from. I had a much larger emotional investment in that game than he did, and every second had me on the edge of my seat. However, I — and most of you — do not represent the average fan. The average fan probably thinks that Joe Nathan was taking too long, as he is wont to do.
Think about how excruciatingly slow Joe Nathan works in a three-run game in early May. Think about how awful it was to watch Brad Penny. Even David Price — who is an amazing pitcher and should probably do beastly things for the Tigers in 2015 — works incredibly slow. There is room for baseball to improve the pace of the game.
A pitch clock is not the answer.
You could do the math to see what a 20-second pitch count will do to the slowest workers in baseball. David Price averaged just over 26 seconds between pitches last season. Chop six seconds off his 120-odd pitches in a start and you shave a full 12 minutes off in-game action. Put another slow-working starter opposite him and you've cut nearly half an hour off the game. Awesome, right?
Not entirely. First, Price is an extreme example. The league average pace between pitches was 23 seconds. Crude math from the above numbers estimates that a pitch clock would cut 12 minutes off the average game. Then you start to work out the number of ways a pitcher could circumvent the clock. They could throw over to first. Or the catcher could call time. Or the pitcher could pretend there's something in his eye. Or the pitcher could just drop the ball (if the bases are empty). That's a decent number of possibilities, and I'm not even getting creative yet.
Regardless if these things actually have an impact on the length of the game, they all significantly depress the pace of the game. Waiting a few extra seconds for Nathan or Price to throw a pitch is awful, but six pickoff throws with Billy Butler on first base would be even worse. Ditto extra mound visits from Alex Avila.
That last paragraph is a bit of a strawman argument, but so is Major League Baseball's assertion that pitchers are the problem. Timing them may be the easiest solution — especially since it's technically already in the rule book — but it's hardly attacking the entire problem. Hitters are equally to blame. With more batting gloves and pine tar and other gear comes more mid-at-bat adjustments. Miguel Cabrera steps out of the batters box and re-straps his batting gloves after every pitch. Have you ever noticed this? It's slightly maddening, and I love Cabrera.
Advertising is also a big culprit. I could be wrong, but I don't believe that MLB.TV was a thing back in the 1950s and '60s. Not every game was on TV, and Viagra wasn't paying millions of dollars for a 30-second spot in between innings. Commercial breaks on Fox Sports Detroit are at least 90 seconds long — two minutes forward, 30 seconds back for the MLB.TV users out there — and get even longer during a national broadcast. Then there are commercials for pitching changes, and sometimes even for replay reviews. There isn't any hard evidence out there, but I imagine that all this advertising has had a negative impact on the length of games.
I am relatively ambivalent about the current pace of baseball, but I don't begrudge those that would like to see the game move a bit quicker. I just don't think that a pitch clock is going to have a significant influence on the game, nor do I like the idea of it potentially altering an important game. Could you imagine if Joe Nathan walked in a run because he took a couple seconds too long with the bases loaded? Yes, it's a one-in-a-million shot, but the baseball world would explode. Let him and other slow pitchers take the extra few seconds. Baseball already provides enough entertainment and drama.
What do you think? Should the pitch clock have a place in baseball?