Saturday, April 10, 2010

Are the Red Sox and Yankees Slow? Let's look at the data

There has been a bit of hubbub about the pace of play in Yankees and Red Sox games after umpire Joe West call their slow play embarrassing.  Their first 3 games of the year were longish at 3:46, 3:48, and 3:21 but justifications for it include lots of hitting to the importance of the games to being national TV games with longer commercial breaks.

Rather than just throw various arguments around, lets go to the data to take a look at what it tells us.  The length of a game should be roughly determined by the number of innings, number of pitches, number of in inning pitching changes, and duration of the commercial breaks.  With that in mind, I looked at the three Yankess vs Red Sox games and then all the American League games played on 4/9 to compare them.

All the data is in a Google Docs spreadsheet, and includes the game time, innings, pitches, in inning pitching changes, and commercial length based on if it is a national TV game or not.  Using these stats I calculate the average time per pitch, which all things being equal should be pretty consistent from game to game.

DateGameTime per Pitch
4/6Yankees / Red Sox0:35
4/9Yankees / Rays0:33
4/4Yankees / Red Sox0:32
4/9Red Sox / Royals0:31
4/7Yankees / Red Sox0:31
4/9Blue Jays / Orioles0:30
4/9Twins / White Sox0:28
4/9Athletics / Angels0:28
4/9Indians / Tigers0:27
4/9Mariners / Rangers0:26

Now, admittedly it is a small sample size, but it seems pretty clear that there is something common about the 5 slowest games from the selected games.  Given that I've factored in a bunch of stuff, why is this?  It is likely caused by visits to the mound by the manager (which are limited) or fellow players (which aren't) and batters stepping out between pitches, and that is what Joe West was complaining about.

Is it the end of the world if some games are a few seconds per pitch slower than others?  In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but MLB has decided to try to speed things up and from the data above, it appears Joe West singling out the Yankees and Red Sox as the biggest offenders could very well be true.

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