SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The seventh game of the World Series was compelling theater with late lead changes, debatable managers’ decisions and a brief rain delay adding to the drama of a winner-take-all, extra-inning game for the championship.
There were probably few who minded that it took 4 hours, 28 minutes.
But the game — with its pitching changes, lengthy commercial breaks and time-consuming confabs on the mound — symbolized a problem for Major League Baseball throughout the season: the pace of play.
Believing that the length of games was turning young fans away, Commissioner Rob Manfred made shortening the games a priority in his first season. It largely worked in 2015 as seven minutes were shaved off the length of the average game, winnowing it down to three hours.
But there was some backsliding this season. The average length of games increased to 3:04 in 2016, and the number of teams that averaged less than three hours dwindled from 10 to two.
In the playoffs, the pace slowed even further. The average length of a World Series game was 3:42 (including a 1-0 win in Game 3 by the Cleveland Indians that took 3:33 to complete). When the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals in a National League Division Series, the five games took an average of 4:01 to complete. The finale lasted 4:32.
“Pace of play is one of those topics that’s going to be a constant, ongoing, year-after-year challenge for us,” Manfred said Wednesday during the general managers’ meetings. “I really mean this. I think our players’ hearts are in the right place, but because we play 162 times in 183 days, it’s easy to lose focus on that issue, and I think we lost a little bit of focus this year.”
Two years ago, MLB implemented a time clock on pitchers to complete their warmup tosses — 2 minutes, 20 seconds for locally televised games; 2:45 for nationally televised games. It also allowed managers to remain in the dugout when deciding to use a replay challenge rather than walking onto the field.
At the meetings, the general managers discussed issues that included relief pitcher trends, strikeout trends and pace of play, said Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer. An agenda was being developed for next month’s winter meetings, and any recommendations that would require union approval would be forwarded to Halem, who handles negotiations with the players. Manfred indicated that limiting mound visits could be an option.
“They’re not sitting on one idea and it’s either make-or-break there,” San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans said. “The game is ever-changing — how the games are played or how they’re approached is different today than it was 10 years ago or five years ago. So it’s always in baseball’s interest to keep an open mind and look at new ideas.”
Evans was asked how Giants fans, known for their high level of engagement, viewed the team’s lethargic pace (their games averaged 3:10 this season).
“That’s why we have some of the best concessions of anybody,” Evans said.
When San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller was suspended last summer for withholding medical information on players he traded to the Boston Red Sox and the Miami Marlins, it gave a further push to MLB’s move to standardize how medical records are maintained.
“I think it’s imperative,” said Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations. “The expectation is that you’re getting information so you’re making informed decisions.”
Inquiry on Familia
Manfred said that MLB is gathering information surrounding Jeurys Familia’s arrest in connection to a reported domestic violence incident but that it is usually difficult for the league to complete its own investigation before the criminal process is done.
Familia, the Mets’ closer, was arrested last week in Fort Lee, New Jersey. An unidentified person suffered a scratch to the chest and a bruise to the right cheek, according to a complaint. Familia was scheduled to appear in court in Fort Lee on Thursday.
“We’re in the offseason and we’re going to try to proceed at the pace to make sure we have all the facts before we try and make a discipline decision,” Manfred said.