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Slow Red Sox and Yankees

Posted by Andy on April 9, 2010

Yesterday Joe West complained about the slow play of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Let's look at the 2009 data to see if we can find any reasons for this.

The 2009 AL "Pitches" batting split tells us a lot.

Tm R/G PA Pit Pit/PA AS/Pit 1stS L/SO
NYY 5.65 6449 25049 3.88 43% 24% 30%
BOS 5.38 6344 24980 3.94 42% 21% 28%
CLE 4.77 6320 24819 3.93 44% 24% 27%
TBR 4.96 6223 24616 3.96 44% 28% 27%
MIN 5.01 6346 24525 3.86 45% 26% 25%
LAA 5.45 6305 24467 3.88 44% 22% 22%
LgAvg 4.82 6253 24017 3.84 45% 26% 25%
TOR 4.93 6362 23884 3.75 45% 26% 28%
OAK 4.69 6247 23859 3.82 46% 26% 27%
BAL 4.57 6233 23689 3.80 46% 26% 25%
TEX 4.84 6127 23431 3.82 47% 31% 22%
DET 4.56 6234 23421 3.76 46% 28% 25%
CHW 4.47 6132 23255 3.79 46% 26% 22%
KCR 4.23 6103 23130 3.79 47% 27% 24%
SEA 3.95 6113 23111 3.78 47% 24% 21%
4.82 87538 336236 3.84 45% 26% 25%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/8/2010.

The table above has a lot of information about the number of pitches seen per team. It's sort at the moment by total number of pitches seen in the season. (Note that with these tables, you can click on any of the headers and re-sort the table.) Notice that the Yankees and the Red Sox saw more pitches than any of the other teams in the AL. Their pitches per plate appearance were both at the high end, but the real reason they saw so many more pitches was because they scored so many runs per game. More runs per game means more batters per game, meaning more plate appearances, meaning more pitches.

The column AS/Pit is the actual swings per pitch. Notice that they are the two lowest teams, meaning they take more pitches than any other team.

The next column, 1stS, is the percentage of times swinging at the first pitch. Swinging at the first pitch can drastically reduce the number of total of pitches seen since it can end a plate appearance in a single pitch. (But of course that single swing could result in a HR or a single, which just brings another guy to the plate, or it could be a swing and miss.) The bottom line is that Boston and New York have the two lowest rates of swinging at the first pitch.

Finally the last column, L/SO, is the fraction of strikeouts that occur looking (as opposed to swinging.) These two teams are the highest, again emphasizing that they like to look at a lot of pitches.

So, when the Yankees and Red Sox each play one of the other AL teams, games are probably extended slightly on average. (And similarly, when the Royals and Mariners play, the games probably go a little quicker on average.) When the play each other, the effect is doubled since both patient teams are involved. Furthermore, when these games are national games, there are often extra commercial spots since TV ratings are so high, making the games even longer.

I don't know if has time-of-game data available in any easy way, although each box score has the data shown. I am willing to bet that the game times are similar to what we see for the pitches seen--namely that the 2009 Yankees and Red Sox were both above league average and their games against each other were well above average.

13 Responses to “Slow Red Sox and Yankees”

  1. SJBlonger Says:

    But doesn't the number of pitches faced while batting only tell half the story? If their pitching staffs average a low number of pitches, it should even out when talking about the length of the game.

  2. Andy Says:


    See here:

    The Red Sox threw the most pitches in the AL last year and the Yankees were 4th. So yeah, that also contributes.

  3. Mike Says:

    Many times when these two teams play each other they are on ESPN or FOX or MLB. Always seems like the networks have slightly longer commercial breaks. I can't prove it and I may be off base with this.

  4. DavidRF Says:

    There is a sortable "Time" column on the team's schedule and results page:

    I don't know how one could add this to other charts which include pitch count data.

    It would be interesting to see how strong of a correlation there is between pitch counts and game length. Certainly there would be a correlation, but just as important would be the pace in which these pitches were thrown. Some pitchers start their next wind-up almost immediately after they get the ball back from the catcher while other pitchers pace around the mound for a bit between every pitch. Some batters often do the same thing. They'll step out of the box and re-adjust their gloves as often as they can.

    I don't think West's complain was tied specifically to scoring a lot of runs and working long counts, but it was tied to these other avoidable factors.

  5. Andy Says:

    Of course, if the umpires called just a slightly wider strike zone, it would speed up games quite a bit. Not only would more strikes be called, but players would swing more often (knowing that pitches are more likely to be called strikes.)

  6. Djibouti Says:

    That would speed up the game but it wouldn't fix the "problem". The most often cited complaint of baseball is that the game is boring. I think this stems from two factors:
    1. length of game
    2. amount of "action"
    If you increase the strike zone, you shorten the game by lessening the total amount of pitches, but you also make problem 2 even worse because now the ratio of action time to standing around time has increased. Here I'm defining 'standing around time' as any time when the ball isn't in play. This includes commercials, mound conferences, timeouts while the pitcher/batter mulls about, time it takes to accept a sign and eventually deliver the pitch, etc. Granted less pitches would lead to less of all these things, but not at equal rates.

    Every team has a few players who take a bit too much time between pitches either adjusting their gloves or walking circles around the mound. It just seems lately that all (or at least most) of the Yankees and Red Sox players do this.

  7. Andy Says:

    You raise an interesting point. If the innings move by more quickly but the commercials stay the same, then watching a game now has a larger fraction of time taken up by commercials than before. I'm not sure if the average viewer would really care.

    Here's the problem. Let's say something happened that did speed up the game--either rules about stepping out of the box were changed, or the strike zone was widened--something, and the innings went by more quickly. MLB and its teams aren't going to want to shorten the commercial breaks because of the loss of revenue. But if they took out one commercial break per half inning, that would shorten the game by about 10 minutes. If the game action itself can be shortened by 10 minutes and the commercials shortened by 10 minutes, then overall game length would decrease by 20 minutes, or about 10% of the current length of an average game. In all likelihood, TV ratings would go up, meaning they could charge a bit more for each commercial, and hopefully have TV revenues remain unchanged. But things never happen that way--I doubt they would ever be willing to give up commercials at the start in the hopes in increasing ratings.

  8. Carl Says:

    Doesn't help that West himself squeezed the hell out of the pitchers.

  9. statboy Says:

    The Yankees averaged 3:08 (longest in MLB) last year, and the Red Sox 3:04 (#2). The MLB average was 2:52.

  10. Andy Says:

    Where did you get that data, statboy?

  11. statboy Says:

    From here.

  12. Zachary Says:

    The charge is accurate, but saying that they are embarrassing and pathetic crosses the line. They're the two best teams in the league - which is why they take so long - and they put on rather dramatic shows. Sure, the game's take forever, but they're of excellent quality. Neither team deserves such harsh remarks.

  13. Sports Geek Says:

    See my comment from about 2 1/2 weeks ago about my game duration analysis:

    My analysis looked at various factors, and found that “pitch count” was the most significant individual variable affecting game duration..
    I am looking to extend the analysis to develop a multi-variable model- for example, pitches and runs, or pitches and "Major TV", or pitches and "mid-inning pitching changes". Right now I am creating the extensive database needed to do this analysis.