Despite Rule Changes, Baseball Games Go Longer Than Ever
There were bound to be statistical oddities during Major League Baseball’s shortened 60-game season.
It wasn’t crazy to think that we’d see the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941. (So far, two hitters are above the hallowed mark — including theColorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, who had flirted with .500 up until last week.) Or perhaps we’d see an assault on Bob Gibson’s 1.12 earned run average: Lance Lynn currently has that within his sights, with his rate standing at 1.11.
But one record that the league wasn’t counting on being broken — and in fact, was going out of its way to protect — was the longest average time for a nine-inning game, which was set at 3 hours and 5 minutes in both 2017 and 2019. About a month into the new season, it looks like that mark could soon be overtaken as games are taking 3 hours and 7 minutes on average.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
This year is the first that Major League Baseball has instituted a minimum batters-faced rule. Gone are the days when specialty relievers were trotted in for a single batter, forcing fans to endure delays that dragged out the late innings and slowed the pace of play to a crawl.
But whatever was gained from trying to limit traffic from the bullpen has been lost to the continued explosion in offense across the league. An average of 9.43 runs are being scored per game this year — the second-highest total in the past decade. And batters are being as selective as ever, seeing an average of 3.95 pitches per plate appearance, the highest rate on record.
Add all of that to starting pitchers who haven’t yet played into shape to go seven innings, and what you get is a recipe for more, not fewer, pitchers per game — despite the new rule. The average game in 2020 has seen 4.67 pitchers per team, the highest ever recorded and a 6% jump from last year, which previously held the record.
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