According to MLB.com, the average time for a nine inning game in the 1970s was around two hours and 30 minutes. Thirty years later, the numbers had grown to two hours and 45 minutes to two hours and 50 minutes during the early part of the 21st century. Starting in 2007, the number grew to a little more than two hours and 50 minutes per game, and has not fallen below the 2:50 mark since.
So, what has caused the increase in game time? The increase is related to several factors not directly correlated with the game, notably increased time between innings for TV and radio commercials. However, as for what occurs during the flow of the game, factors include players taking longer between at-bats and between pitches, as well as pitchers taking longer to throw pitches. Major league officials are concerned particularly about games that last more than three hours because the majority of fans are working people who have to go to work the day after a night game.
Baseball officials do not want the game to be played at a leisurely pace. When batters step out of the batter's box and pitchers take longer to get ready to throw, the pace of the game slows. If a game takes a long time because there is more action, most fans don't mind a game that lasts more than three hours. However, if the game has little action, but delaying tactics, along with long meetings on the mound, are the reasons, fans can become annoyed. As a result, major league officials have told the umpires to keep games moving efficiently. In the post-steroid era, hitting is down, every year seems to be the "year of the pitcher" and yet games are longer than ever. So what can be done to improve on game length?
1. Use/Enforce a pitch clock
Whether it's playing mind games with a batter or a base runner, or giving their arms as much time to rest as possible in between each individual pitch, pitchers are taking longer than ever to deliver pitches to the plate. An MLB rule exists that institutes a 12-second pitch clock, though it is almost never enforced. It must be enforced, with balks to be called if the pitch is not delivered in time.
2. Limit warm-up pitches to 5
During an average game (depending on whether or not there's a bottom of the 9th), pitchers will walk out to the mound and throw eight warm-up pitches 17-18 times before the half-inning officially starts. That's 136+ pitches being thrown that do nothing but "get the pitcher loose." If those pitches are to get him loose, then what is he doing in the bullpen hours before the game starts, churning butter? And what about the relievers who come out after spending a good deal of time warming up before coming in the game? Did their arms tighten up in the walk to the mound? Limiting a pitcher to five warm-up tosses in-between innings, or to relievers entering mid-inning, would trim at least 50 pitches, and shave several minutes off game time.
3. Limit pitcher substitutions to two per inning
I could be even greedier and say one, but I'll allow some room for error. Managers who don't bother sitting down during the course of an inning in late game situations drive fans, players and opposing coaches crazy with their multiple substitutions and their one pitcher for one batter mindset. During yesterday's 5-2 victory over the New York Mets, Nationals manager Davey Johnson used four pitchers in the eighth inning alone. One pitcher, Henry Rodriguez, didn't even record an out, and one pitcher, Sean Burnett, threw one pitch, got one out, then was removed. Keep games moving by keeping pitchers in the game for more than 37 seconds.
4. Signaling an Intentional Walk
"Hi, we're going to have our catcher set up more than a foot off the plate and have our pitcher throw four balls that take 10 seconds to reach the catcher's glove, and for some reason, we're going to do this four separate times." It's a waste of time having all four balls of an intentional walk thrown. If you simply have a manager or catcher, or the pitcher himself even that a batter is going to be intentionally walked, why not just have one ball thrown to represent the intentional walk? It works in baseball video games, so why couldn't it work in real life?
Between the increased amount of time between innings to allow for ever-increasing amounts of commercials and the babying of pitchers becoming a sport itself with six pitchers being used to retire six batters, the game of baseball is becoming, before our eyes, a four hour affair that compares to a round of golf. It must be changed now, before it is too late.
5. Keeping batters from stepping out after every pitch
This is the hitting equivalent to pitchers taking their sweet time to throw pitches. Whether or not a pitch is swung at or not, there is no need to step out after every pitch and to see if the jock is still where it is supposed to be, or to check on the same 16 signs from the third base coach, or check on the batting glove tightness. If the batting gloves were put on properly, then there should be no change at all. Once a hitter steps into the batter's box, he can't step out during the at-bat. If he wants to look at the third base coach, he can do that once the pitch crosses the plate and in the time it takes for the catcher to throw the ball back to the pitcher.