If it seemed like the series against the Padres would never end, that wasn’t too far from the truth. The average length of the four games played by the Diamondbacks in San Diego over the weekend was three hours and 24 minutes. That’s 17 minutes longer than the average length of a major-league game in 2020, which was 3:07. If that pattern were to be sustained over the rest of the year, this means a fan watching every game would devote almost an additional 46 hours - so, more than an entire work week - to the team this year. None of these games went in to extras. Indeed, three of the four ended after 81⁄2 innings. And they weren’t slugfests either; the average score for the series was 5-3.
The biggest culprit was the Friday night game, which took a mind-numbing three hours and 53 minutes for a mere 4-2 defeat. It was the longest 81⁄2 inning game the Diamondbacks had ever played on the road. In team history, there have now been 43 road games to end with the same scoreline, a 4-2 loss. Their median length is just two hours, 42 minutes, more than seventy minutes quicker than Friday night’s slothapalooza. Why did it take so long? There wasn’t that much offense: nine hits for Arizona, eight for San Diego. Nor was there a plethora of pitchers: each side used five, not particularly different from the 4.43 average in the NL during 2019 (the last time pitchers hit for themselves).
But there were a lot of long at-bats. The average plate-appearance in the game took 4.31 pitches. considerably above 2019’s average of 3.91 P/PA. More than a quarter (20 of 74) lasted 6+ pitches, and that doesn’t include any pick-offs. Not helping matters: a lack of action. Of 74 PAs, twenty ended in a K and nine in a walk. Even including the two homers, over this near four-hour slog, there were only 45 balls put in play. That’s an average of a five minute and eleven second wait for something to happen, and that “something” includes pop flies and easy ground-outs to the infield. The viewer was waiting a mind-numbing 13:42 between hits, and almost an hour for one of the four run-scoring plays.
It isn’t just the Diamondbacks. Over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, Al looked at the same topic on an MLB-wide basis today. He found that the 44 regulation-length games this year had taken an average of 3:16, nine minutes up on last year’s figure. That’s despite the average pitches per plate appearance being down fractionally (3.93 from 3.95 in 2020). The main culprit appears to be pitchers taking longer between pitches. This is something a pitch clock would help address, but that idea seems to have died on the vine. It was used as far back as 2014 in the Arizona Fall League, but never got closer to the majors than spring training 2019. Little has been heard since.
More radical changes than that may be needed. MLB are experimenting with adjustments in the minors this season, which is a start. But I really don’t think that increasing the size of a base by three inches, as is being done in Triple-A, will address the fundamental issue. The problem is that the most efficient and effective approach to winning games, is separate and independent from - indeed, often counter-productive to - providing entertainment value. Watching a batter trot to first base or carry his bat back to the dugout with him is typically not much fun for the viewer. I don’t at all blame managers and GMs for playing to win. But the approach is unquestionably reducing the appeal of games.
It doesn’t help that it’s no longer “Do I watch a movie or the D-backs game?”. It has now become, “Do I watch TWO movies or the D-backs game?”... Especially with expectations for the team this season low in general, that’s a question whose answer may end up skewing increasingly towards the former.