May 2016

The Four-Hour, Nine-Inning MLB Game, SaberMetrics to Blame?

In 2014 and going into 2015, all the talk in baseball world was pace of play and length of games. Yet this season for various factors, games are taking a good bit longer to play. One of my theories is that strikeouts are way up in the modern game and fewer outs are recorded as a result from double plays and runners caught trying to advance on either a stolen base or stretching a hit an extra 90 feet. With the high focus now also on on-base percentage, walks are as valued as hitting safely, so batters are walking more and striking out more than ever. This is reinforced by the focus on power pitching, which goes all out for the wif and seems to put less value on the art of changing speeds and pitch locations, sacrificing overall control.

Obviously some games that go 4, 5 and beyond 6 hours are the legendary extra inning contests. So this focus will be taking a look at games that were just 9 innings in length and 4 hours or longer in total playing time.

Using baseball reference, I compiled a list of games that fit this dataset, which covers everything from 1913 through Wednesday May 18, 2016, the night prior to the writing of this post.

How rare were such games at one time? Only three took place prior to the 1961 expansion, one each in 1916, 1925 and 1926. The fourth game was on June 22, 1962, an 11-9 Braves win over the Giants. The giants and Dodgers played a similar game on October 2, 1962, a loss to the Dodgers. It would be 21 more years until July 10, 1983 when the Brewers took a 12-9 victory against the White Sox in 4:11. Such games became a tad more frequent starting with #7, a June 8, 1986 Yankees Orioles contest. The 1986-1989 seasons each saw one such game, and all the games starting with that 1983 contest to this point were AL games using the DH. After 1990 was free of such games, a then record four were played in 1991, again all in the AL: White Sox v Red Sox May 15, Tigers v White Sox august 14, White Sox V Rangers on September 6 and Red Sox v Mariners on September 7. Three such games were played in 1992, four in 1993, four in 1994 and three in 1995, the ladder two shortened seasons. Still, all these games were in the AL. the record jumped to six such games in 1996, including a pair in the NL, Dodgers v Rockies June 30, Marlins v Padres July 27. That record of six would again be tied in 1999, 2 AL, 2 NL, and 2 interleague games.

From 1916 to 1999, 47 such games were played, with 37 of those between 1991 and 1999.

But then came 2000 and 13 such games alone that season, more than double the prior record. It returned to more normal values of three and four games the next two seasons, jumped to five in 2003 and then shockingly none in 2004, the first such season since 1990. The 2005-2007 seasons produced four, two and eight such games, with a drop to five in 2008. The 2009-2011 seasons produced totals of four, six and three such games. Since then, a spike, ten in 2012, eight in 2013, a record 16 in 2014, then a drop to six in 2015, yet 2016 has already had six such games and the season is not quite a quarter of the way to its conclusion, a record breaking pace. When we realize that strikeouts and walks are making up a combined 30% of all MLB plate appearance conclusions, it makes for a game that drags and is not as active. If strikeouts were reduced to 17% and walks to 6% of all play outcomes, that reduces the number of such plate appearance conclusions by over 25%, meaning 25% of those plate appearances would turn into action resulting in hits or defensive plays and thus faster and more crisp games. If MLB is serious about dealing with this issue, then perhaps it will accidently address another one, arm injuries.

I am not a doctor, but I believe we are pushing vilosity at the expense of career length when it comes to pitchers, now that everyone brought into a big league game seems to throw 90 or more. If we went back to valuing pitchers for their ability as a pitching artist, rather than just looking at who can send the radar gun to triple digits, we would have a crop of pitchers who were more durable. It would mean more balls in play, but it would allow for a faster game and yes, a game that could then maximize the defensive value that now is rightfully being placed on players. If strikeouts dip, those defensive positioning and shifts are going to be all the more important and it would also encourage teams to employ speed guys who could bunt against the defensive shift in place.

These are just my views of course, but I wonder who agrees with me on this theory?