New Rules Dramatically Speeding Up MiLB Games

Image credit: (Photo by Carl. D Walsh/Portland Press Herald)

Pitch clocks have been a part of multiple levels of the minor leagues for a number of years. But enforcement has been somewhat lax, and players have regularly figured out workarounds to take more time.

Last night, a new stricter enforcement of pitch clocks (14 seconds with bases empty and 18 seconds with runners on base) and rules that require hitters to remain in the batter’s box began to be enforced around the minors. And while it’s only day one of a season-long experiment, the results were dramatic.

On their first day of enforcement, the new rules appeared to cut more than 25 minutes from the average game time.

Last night across the minors, the average game time for a nine-inning game was 2:38 and the median game time was 2:34. For the previous week of games, the average game time for a nine-inning game was 3:04 and the median game time was 2:59.

That 3:04 average game time was right in line with last year’s pace. In 2021, Triple-A nine-inning games took 3:04 on average. Double-A games took 2:57. High-A took 3:04 and Low-A took 3:00.

Data on MiLB average time of game goes back to 2005. Last night’s average of 2:38 across the full minors is faster than the average nine-inning game time for any level in any year since measurements began. At the major league level, the last time the average nine-inning game was less than 2:38 was 1985.

In other words, last night the new rules appeared to turn back the clock on decades of expansion in the length of games.

The games at the extremes are more glaring. Of last night’s 50 nine-inning games, only eight (16%) lasted longer than three hours. Before Friday, 43% of nine-inning MiLB games were taking three hours or longer. There were seven games (14%) under 2:20 last night, compared to five (1.7%) over the previous week of games. Before Friday, there hadn’t been any nine-inning games under two hours, there was one yesterday. That sub-two hour nine-inning game has been as rare as a snowflake in Florida in the recent years–last year the first sub-two hour game didn’t occur until a month and a half into the season.

Last night’s games were a little lower scoring than they have been over the first week of the season which could play a modest factor in the shorter game times. But for traditionalists who may be concerned that the changes will lead to less baseball, this cutting of game time seems to have largely been created by eliminating dead time.

Comparing apples to apples (nine-inning games from Friday, April 15 to nine-inning games from Friday, April 8), there were 148 pitches thrown per team last night compared to 158 pitches per team the week before. There were 37.8 plate appearances per team last night compared to 39.6 PAs the week before.

Comparing April 8 to April 15, fans on April 8 saw an extra 20 pitches and four plate appearances over an extra 26 minutes of game time.

The average time between pitches was cut from 34.8 seconds to 32.0. That’s total game time, so that includes the time used for between-inning changeovers, pitching changes and everything else that pauses the game. Making a rough calculation to just account for every the roughly two minutes, 20 seconds spent on between innings changeovers (without accounting for pitching changes, substitutions and any other delays of the game) finds a larger 3.5 second improvement in the between pitch pace. 

Last night, the average plate appearance took 2 minutes, 5 seconds. The Friday before, it took 2 minutes, 19 seconds. The average inning took nine minutes, down from 10 minutes, 51 seconds.

In the past when MLB or MiLB has instituted these kind of changes, the reductions in game times have slowly eroded. But if Friday is any indication, MiLB games this year will be the fastest paced they have been in at least a generation.

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