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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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.
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....
cmaczkow is right about the pitching change issue, though. The game moves along far better when the starters are still in the game.
Who do you think I am, Eric Seidman?
So mustard on hamburgers is out of the question? It's good, I eat it all the time!
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)