It’s been a good and fun MLB postseason so far. There have been walk-offs and unlikely comebacks, early exits and underdog success, and so much more. Every game has been like a miniseries, with a bunch of storylines and multiple parts.
Also, every game has been like a miniseries because they’ve been very long. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN puzzled out the averages, and they’re not great:
After setting a record for long game times during the regular season, MLB has continued the trend into October. Entering Tuesday’s American and National League Championship Series games, the average time for a nine-inning playoff game was 3 hours, 35 minutes — up 10 minutes from 2016 and 21 minutes from two years ago.
A ten minute increase over 2016 isn’t fantastic, but it’s not huge. But a 21 minute increase over 2015!? That’s nearly the length of a sitcom episode without the commercials. With that 21-minute increase from two years ago, you could watch almost an entire episode of “Friends” on DVD.
It’s hard to tell what the culprit is here. It can’t just be the longer commercial breaks between innings, because that happens every postseason. There have been a lot of pitching changes for sure, especially since starters aren’t lasting nearly as long and bullpens have been used liberally. Every pitching change means an additional commercial break, which lengthens things. When pitchers struggle they can take longer to pitch, and that can also lead to mound visits, both of which which can suck up more time.
There’s one other thing that increases game times: offense. Offense was up league-wide this season, and when teams hit more homers (and doubles and singles), that lengthens the games. That leads to pitchers struggling, which leads to slower pitching, mound visits and more pitching changes.
While Commissioner Rob Manfred has continued to deny that the baseball has been juiced, there is ample evidence to the contrary. And while that’s led to more offense, there have been (probably unintended) consequences for both pitchers and managers. Pitchers are terrified of giving up home runs, which is pretty much inevitable these days, and managers have to figure out how to deploy their pitching staffs to compensate for this homer-happy environment.
Pace-of-play has been Manfred’s baby ever since he got the job. And perhaps he’s learning that he can’t have it both ways. Games can’t be shorter AND have more offense. Not without a fundamental change to the game itself, like shortening every game by two innings.
The games have been long, and as we progress farther into the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get any shorter. At least most of the games have been highly entertaining. As the baseball-watching public continues to wake up bleary eyed after the latest four-hour night game, that (and coffee) is something to be thankful for.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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