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I have a job that, unfortunately, limits the amount of time I can spend watching baseball. In that window of time in which I am not at my job or doing any of the other loathsome, menial things that consume an adult’s life, I like to fit in as much baseball as possible. Baseball is fun! I enjoy watching it. So when I sit down to a game, I am ready to watch something awesome.

Here are some of the things I love about baseball: the complex maneuvers Chris Sale has to enact in order to deliver his pitches, in which any of his seemingly eight limbs might snap. The slashing swing of Javier Baez, rendered by my television as a blurred streak over the plate, usually far from the passing ball. The crack of the bat, and all the various sounds within that crack. The graceful, loping range of a good outfielder. Bartolo Colon hitting a double.

I hope that other people appreciate some of these things as well. I suspect that at least a subset of those things are of interest to you, or you wouldn’t be on a baseball website reading about baseball. I get tremendous enjoyment out of those things, and it is for that fundamental reason that I also like to write about baseball.

If I’m being honest, I don’t take delight in absolutely everything about baseball. Here are some things I am indifferent about with regards to the game of baseball: most of the verbiage announcers spout. Mound visits, most of the time. Baseball players readjusting their junk. Baseball players ejecting egregious concentrations of saliva onto the soil. Gordon Beckham.

Reasonable people can disagree about some of these things*. You probably enjoy hearing Vin Scully describe the Los Angeles sunset. Conversely, perhaps gazing upon Bartolo Colon’s attempts to hit the ball causes you physical pain. In certain situations, it is possible you get a real kick out of attempting to figure out what the catcher is saying to the pitcher in that third consecutive mound visit. But I think it is not controversial to say that, overall, the list of things I mentioned first is more enjoyable than the list of things I mentioned second.

The first list constitutes plays which affect the outcome of games. It encompasses freakishly talented athletes performing astounding feats of strength and skill, like hurling a ball 100 mph in a straight line to a point several hundred feet away with little margin of error. It is replete with strategic decisions and complex maneuvers which you can’t really find anywhere but in a pro sports arena. For my money, it’s among the most interesting and engaging collection of events I can observe, and for that reason, I spend my money and time on observing them.

The second list encompasses a bunch of dudes in the process of maybe attempting to do some of those amazing things in a minute. None of the actions is really exceptional. If you want to find some people kicking dirt, engaging in muted conversations about unimportant things, and readjusting themselves, there’s a bus stop in front of my house at which a complete catalog of those acts can be witnessed. On the other hand, nobody’s televising that bus stop (yet; MLB, call me).

These other things aren’t objectionable, per se. It doesn’t bother me to watch the pitcher scrape the mound with the side of his shoe, and maybe someday I’ll get interested in soil sculpture and that will become engrossing. In the mean time, it’s just filler. It’s like the loading screen in a video game or establishment shots in movies.

Due to the aforementioned job, however, and its effects on my free time, I prefer not to suffuse the minutes I have left with David Price’s dirt art creations. I want to see baseball. Consider me impatient or rude or not in touch with my Zen self, but I am vastly more interested in Yu Darvish’s pitches than the spaces between his pitches.

For me, it’s purely a matter of efficiency. Given that 1) I like baseball, and 2) I possess a limited amount of time to engage in watching baseball, this postulate naturally follows: I want to maximize the amount of quality baseball pleasure I can fit into that limited time. The best parts of baseball to my biased eyes are the parts in which the game is being played, as opposed to the times in which it is effectively paused.

If I go to the ballpark, by the way, that might be a very different story. The very best part might well be when I get to talk to my dad in between pitches. If that time you get to spend with your friends or family at a game is a reason that you would like to slow down the pace of baseball, I understand. I do enjoy a sedate game on occasion, it’s just that those occasions are few, due to the particular circumstances of my life. On balance, I would prefer the games move faster.

Your viewing experience may differ, and far be it for me to tell you how to enjoy the game. I like to look at FIP, you like SIERA. I really enjoy daring baserunning, whereas it’s top-notch shortstop defense which does it for you. We can agree to disagree, and you can write a counter-column, and we can have a Twitter War (that escalated quickly). Even some of my esteemed colleagues at BP possess different viewpoints, and that’s great.

Happily, baseball contains multitudes: not only in the people who enjoy it, but in how they enjoy it. However, for myself (and I think many other people besides me), the game could probably go a bit faster. Whether anything gets done about the issue basically depends on whether Rob Manfred finds that people like to enjoy the game more my way or some other, different way in which pace is unimportant.

This offshoot debate about “time of game” is a red herring. I would define “pace” as the time spent per baseball action in a game. Longer pace, all else being equal, will thus cause longer game times, yet it is not the time itself which is objectionable but rather the time wasted, in which no baseball is happening. Excessive time of game is purely a symptom of the underlying disease, which is a pace of game problem. Even if you genuinely believe that game times are getting too long—and they aren’t, mind you, any longer than other sporting or entertainment events which we all happily sit through—I think you would also agree that much of the time of game problem would be solved by treating the pace of game problem.

I am not now going to proceed through the various proposed solutions to the pace of game problem (others have already done that), except to note that there’s one that stands out, one more obvious, potent, and feasible than any other, and that is to reduce the time between pitches**. This time is utterly wasted. Announcers try to fill it, but I don’t listen to MLB games to hear their voices. Players do nothing visibly interesting in this time. Maybe they are engaged in deep thoughts about entropy and the optimal pitch type distribution in relation to their next pitch; maybe they are thinking about how they need to change their cat’s litter box when they get home. And maybe you can stare into their soul via the soft glow of the TV screen and intuit those thoughts, and actually they are super-philosophical and fascinating, but I don’t have that ability. All I see is a bunch of 20-to-40-year-old men walking around in circles and kicking dirt.

In short, this bores me. Pitching and throwing and running and hitting is all incredibly exciting, and the basic reason I watch baseball. The stuff in between can sometimes be nice for the purposes of building dramatic tension, or so that I can grab a beer. But MLB has become the pacing equivalent of a soap opera: there’s so much time spent preening and overacting and inserting dramatic pauses for the audience to catch up that by the time Jon Lester finally goes into his windup, I am either screaming at the TV for him to pitch the damn ball, or asleep. That is the pace of game problem, and for my particular viewing experience, it demands a solution.

*Not Gordon Beckham.

**With a pitch clock, probably.

Thank you for reading

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kmostern
9/03
I couldn't disagree more. I actually don't think most fans notice the difference between 19 seconds to a pitch and 22 seconds to a pitch, and lots of people at home as well as at the ballpark are engaged in conversations while watching. Go to a bar - don't watch alone so much! But everyone notices getting drowsy at 10:15, as the most important moments of the game are happening. And everyone notices being exhausted at work the next day after falling asleep half an hour or an hour later than they intended to.
tannerg
9/03
Really? I sentence you to watch every one of Clay Buchholz's starts this season.
nada012
9/03
Of course, we disagree, but that's perfectly fine. I don't get drowsy at 10:15, so I don't mind the late end times much at all. I also couldn't hang out at a bar every time I want to watch a game, but that's just my life--yours may be different. I think lots of people watch baseball from home, though.
LameBrain
9/03
Perhaps someone can educate me on why it is that football announcers (and fans) never seem overly concerned with how much time elapses between plays or how long it takes to review a contested official's call, yet baseball announcers and fans agonize over precious seconds "lost" between pitches. I believe an actual 60 minute NFL game (that takes 3+ hours to play) has about 5-6 minutes of actual game action (i.e., actual play action is taking place). I become disgusted with MLB announcers who continually point out how much time a play under review is taking. Are these guys so taxed mentally that they can't come up with some actual worthwhile analysis to offer fans during this time? After all, don't we all want those errors in umpires' judgments to be corrected if/when they can be? I understand the "limited time in life" complaint expressed here, but really, is watching 11 men in a huddle receiving instruction from the QB all that exciting? Maybe MLB needs scantily clad cheerleaders or more Philly Phanatics to liven up the game and fill in the dull moments. Perhaps MLB announcers need to be a little better prepared for those times when there is no action on the field. Some are (like Vin Scully), but others (who are often retired players) have little to offer after the first few times you listen to them. Bring on more announcers with SABR skill sets and allow them to educate the viewers with their observations and analyses in an effort to bring some added depth and insight into the great game that baseball is.
geofflong
9/03
I don't think many people are holding out football's pacing as something that baseball should aspire to. And in any event, football at least has a clock between plays.
nada012
9/03
Yes, what Geoff said. I don't watch football, albeit not for that specific reason.

I would also note that there is some substantial activity between plays in football; substitutions are made, formations are being set, linebackers are running hither and thither, and Peyton Manning is barking "OMAHA" repeatedly for no apparent reason.
bobbygrace
9/03
I think you've touched on something important here. What's often discussed as a pace problem strikes me, in some ways, as a presentation problem. As the author points out, at the ballpark the pace of the game feels relaxed and congenial; I agree with him, too, that the same pace at home feels bogged down and, all too often, tedious. A good team of announcers goes a long way toward solving the pace problem of the televised game: presentation is so important. And it's been a long time since a lot of us have seen or heard good announcers regularly. Unfortunately, that's especially true in postseason games.

Another way I've thought to solve this problem is to quit my job and move to the West Coast, so I'm more awake for the games. Maybe part of the pace problem is a getting-old problem....
paulfrancke
9/03
This is obviously a problem - ask anyone who's given up watching baseball for another sport - and people trying to defend the degenerating pace of baseball need to figure out why they hate the game's classic, traditional (pre-90s) pace so much. Great article, and thanks.
geofflong
9/03
I've been watching a lot of pro basketball during the winter, and the speed of the games is great. Basketball has some pacing problems, like timeouts in close games, but even with those factored in, you get a lot of entertainment on a per-minute basis.
cmaczkow
9/03
I'm not sure an average at-bat in the second inning nowadays takes that much more time than it used to. But, pitching changes = more commercial breaks and more time spent listening to announcers and watching a guy warm up. There are way more of them now than there were twenty years ago - often multiple times an inning. Hard to keep excitement brewing when you take a 5 minutes break every couple of hitters. And - naturally - they often occur during the times when the excitement would otherwise be at its highest (i.e. late-innings of close games).
nada012
9/03
Yes, the pitching changes are another significant issue with pace, one that I would also like to see fixed. Agreed that they are often obnoxious in how they interrupt the drama of the game. However, at-bat time has been rising with the time between pitches as well, even for SP, as Russell Carleton has observed here:
http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/baseball-games-don-t-need-to-be-shortened-082614
rawagman
9/03
Televised baseball watching is something I do between sentences as I read at home. Unless Mark Buerhle is pitching - the man does not leave time between pitches.
cmaczkow is right about the pitching change issue, though. The game moves along far better when the starters are still in the game.
jdeich
9/03
Get ready for September baseball, where the expanded rosters reward the manager who is willing to make situational pitching changes with abandon.
thegeneral13
9/04
"I like to look at FIP, you like SIERA."

Who do you think I am, Eric Seidman?
WaldoInSC
9/04
Okay Robert, we can disagree on base running and FIP, but if you put mustard on hamburgers, that's where I draw the line.
nada012
9/04
Agreed.
therealn0d
9/04
"Wieners in buns, no condiments, it's Hank's way, anything else is wrong"

So mustard on hamburgers is out of the question? It's good, I eat it all the time!
brentdaily
9/05
I think the signal to noise ratio is what needs to be measured. A pitch isn't really a "play" in the sense it doesn't feel like the game progresses toward a result. The time between an action that feels substantive to the casual fan is vastly different for baseball than other sports.

Basketball: 18s between shots average, 24s max
Football: 28s between plays, 40s max
Baseball: 79s between plate appearances, no max (average pitches per PA x avg pace)