Opening day 2018 is in the books, and it wasn’t just the first game of the year — it was the first time the players (and umpires) were dealing with the new mound visit limit. That’s the new pace of play rule that commissioner Rob Manfred decided to institute for the 2018 season, electing to hold off on implementing a pitch clock so the players could have the opportunity to reduce game times on their own.
So after one day and 13 games (two were postponed due to rain), how did the players do? The numbers are in, and the news isn’t great. The average time for Thursday’s games was three hours and 15 minutes, which is an increase of seven minutes over 2017’s opening day average of three hours and eight minutes.
Looking at 2018’s opening day average doesn’t get better when you compare it to other recent years. The average for 2016’s opening day games was the same as 2017, at three hours and eight minutes. But buckle in for 2015’s opening day average: two hours and 49 minutes. 2018’s average opening day game time was 26 (!?!?) minutes longer than 2015.
Opening day is the smallest of small sample sizes. A single MLB season consists of 2,430 games, and on Thursday we saw just 13. But it’s not the greatest sign that the average game time on opening day 2018 was seven minutes longer than 2017 and 2016, and 26 minutes longer than 2015. That’s right in line with how average game time has been trending overall — the average MLB game increased by four minutes in 2016 and five minutes in 2017.
Game length depends on a lot of things. Weather. Temperature. The style of the pitcher, and the style of the batter. (Everyone has seen an at-bat with a bunch of fouls and feels like it lasts forever.) If the pitcher struggles, there will be more batters, and that leads to a longer game. But Rob Manfred (and the commissioner’s office) has made it clear that he doesn’t care about the reasons. He just wants shorter games, the end. And unless the players figure out how to make that happen, there will definitely be a pitch clock in their future.
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