Major League Baseball made subtle adjustments this past offseason in an attempt to improve pace of play, and as of the most recent collective data we’ve read about — through the first month of the MLB season for all 30 teams — the moves are working.
Whereas the average time of game in 2014 was a sloth-like 3 hours, 2 minutes, the pace through the first month of 2015, according to MLB, was a much breezier 2:54. While we’re not likely to return to the days of games lasting 2 1/2 hours as rule, eight minutes is a significant drop — and something that almost everyone would consider an improvement. Because we’re not losing 8 minutes of action. We’re losing 8 minutes of nothingness — time that batters used to readjust their gloves that can now be spent pondering life’s great mysteries.
What I found particularly interesting — after spending part of the afternoon on a self-taught class on rudimentary Excel spread sheet usage — is that as dramatic as the difference has been in MLB on average, the difference with the Twins is almost doubly impressive.
A decade ago, the Twins played at the fastest pace in MLB, with an average game time of 2:37. By 2013, however, that pace had swelled to 3 hours and 6 minutes per game for the Twins, a number they duplicated in 2014. That was four minutes slower than the major league average last season, perhaps one reason why those who watch the Twins a lot (myself included) became extra grumbly about pace of play.
This year? The Twins overall have their pace at 2 hours, 51 minutes — three minutes faster than the overall MLB average reported in the first month of the season. So while MLB as a whole has cut 8 minutes off the length of game from 2014 to this year, the Twins have cut a whopping 15 minutes off their game time, from 3:06 to 2:51.
But in the last 23 games, the difference is even more dramatic. In that time frame (not including Tuesday’s game), the Twins are playing games in just under 2 hours, 41 minutes — a full 25 minutes faster than last season. Only three of their last 23 games have lasted three hours or more. In 2014, 94 out of 162 Twins games lasted at least three hours.
The Twins’ average game time is back to the pace they were at 5 years ago, which is far more comfortable than where it was.
If you’re looking for an explanation as to why the Twins’ pace has quickened so much, well, in addition to the subtle changes by MLB I would say there are two main reasons.
First, the Twins are pitching better. They’re giving up about 0.6 fewer base runners per game this year than in 2014, and fewer base runners mean quicker games. (One odd note: The Twins are actually using more pitchers per game this season than last season — 4.17 per game this season vs. 4.03 a year ago).
Second, the Twins are walking a lot less than they did last year — 3.4 per game last season as opposed to 2.4 per game this year, which isn’t surprising because they’re seeing fewer pitches. Last year they had four of the AL’s top 30 batters in terms of pitches seen per plate appearance. This year, only Brian Dozier is even in the top 35. Fewer baserunners and fewer pitches mean faster games.
There are probably a number of factors that add 30 seconds here or there. The bottom line is this: If you’ve been at Target Field this season and seem to think games are moving along at a much speedy clip, you’re not crazy.