On Tuesday night, I tweeted* that it seemed the Red Sox/Marlins game had been on for "like six hours now." Always a fan of hyperbole, it was more a statement to the fact that Mark Buehrle was pitching in a game that was now over the three-hour mark. While most understood the point I was making, @rRaindog63 (also known as Bill outside of cyberspace, a quick Googlin' tells me) felt the need to challenge by hyperbolized comment with one of his own:
@CeeAngi In part, you can thank the D.H. rule for that. And once they add Instant Replay to every other play, the games will get even slower— Bill Miller (@Raindog63) June 13, 2012
I feel like I know Bill well after reading his 140 character self-description of himself. Bill is a father, a Mets fan, a history teacher turned librarian, and a writer. I'm not sure which library he works at, so I can't confirm he's actually a librarian, nor have I read anything he's ever written—but let's assume all of these things are true, including the Mets fan part. Small sample size, but Bill is wearing a Mets hat in his Twitter avatar, so let's assume that Bill does, in fact, watch the Mets and by proxy more National League baseball (Bill, if you're listening, since you're in Greenville, South Carolina, you should go check out the Drive, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and their ballpark that is a replica of Fenway Park).
First, I was willing to overlook the fact that Bill made this comment during the Red Sox vs. Marlins game, an interleague match-up that was played at Marlins Park, meaning there was no designated hitter,but, Bill's comment had me wondering: was there any validity to this idea that American League games are longer and that the designated hitter was the culprit? I knew what Bill was getting at, he even sent me a link to this article, which is from 2009 and basically argues the same thing that Bill did: that more offense is slowing down the games.
I asked around and Tweeters seemed to agree that the more hits, the more walks, the longer the games would be—and that clearly games in the American League would be longer, and according to one friendly tweeter, more boring.
But, I wasn't convinced.
I didn't think it was rational to assume that just because there was one batter different in the lineup, that the designated hitter made a big difference in game length than having a pitcher in that slot would, especially when you consider moves like double switches, pitching substitutions, and pinch hitters, which are used frequently in National League games to compensate for the lack of designated hitters.
I took to the Internet to find more data or articles that had been written in regards to game lengths of the American League versus the National League, but I didn't find much other than articles insisting that the designated hitter is evil, the American League is inferior, and that all of this offensive production was making game so much longer, but I still wasn't convinced. Since I couldn't find a neatly packaged version of point I was trying to argue, I did the only thing I could: I decided to create the argument myself. After a couple of emails to Sean Forman of Baseball-reference.com and Bradley Ankrom of Baseball Prospectus, I had all of the game length data I was seeking.
I looked at several things in the data, which is available if anyone wants to see the full-spreadsheet versions, but I had three main data sets: Average Game Length (AL vs. NL from 1960-2012) which includes extra-inning games, Average Game Length (AL vs. NL from 1970-2012) which includes only nine-inning games in the averages, and Average Time per Out from 1960-2012. After looking through the data and making a few charts, here's a summary of the findings:
Average Game Length 1960-1972 (pre-designated hitter)
Total Seasons: 13
American League Longer: 8 seasons
National League Longer: 5 seasons
Smallest Difference: 1 minute, in 1960, 1963, 1966, 1970
Biggest Difference: 8 minutes ( National League 163 minutes, American League 155 minutes)
Average Difference: 2.6 minutes
While American League games lasted longer in 62% of the seasons from 1960-1973, most season game lengths were close—with the average difference in game length being just 2.6 minutes per game. In two seasons, 1961 and 1962, the National League games were higher than average, lasting 5 and 8 minutes longer, respectively. The time per out data mirrors the game length data in this case, showing that in 8 seasons the American League took longer to record an out, the games were also longer.
What does this tell us? Not too much, other than entering the era of the designated hitter, game lengths and times per out were comparable between the two leagues. Now, enter the designated hitter.
Average Game Length 1973-2012
Total Seasons: 40
American League Longer: 34
National League Longer: 3
Smallest Difference: 0 minutes, 2002, 2004, 2011
Largest Difference: 11 minutes ( American League 1985, 1994, 1995)
Average Difference: 4.95 minutes
Over 40 seasons with the designated hitter, the evidence suggests that games in the American League are, in fact, longer but with one major caveat—they aren't that much longer. With an average difference of just 4.95 minutes per game, it would seem that the perception that American League games are just so much longer! And the designated hitter is to blame! seems to be a misconception. Furthermore, there are so many variables that go into determining the length of a game, that it's difficult to pin that to the designated hitter, when there are many factors that can dictate the length of a game in either league, including but not limited to:
• Commercial breaks
• In-park promotions
• Slow pitchers
• Slow batters
• Coaches who visit the mound frequently
• Bat boys that lack hustle
• Catchers that approach the plate frequently
• Pitching changes
• Bench clearing brawls
• Singing Sweet Caroline*
• Number of pitchers per at-bat (walks, plate discipline)
• Park factors
*there is no evidence to suggest that singing Sweet Caroline makes games longer since it's conducted during a commercial break, but it should be on the list as it's an evil much greater than the designated hitter.
If you look at the chart, the biggest spike in game differences came during the period between 1985-2001, where American League games were clearly taking much longer, but since 2002, that gap has shrunk considerably. Since 2002, the National League games have been longer in three seasons, with the American League longer in five seasons (two were ties). Again, there are many factors that can contribute to the game length, but the data suggests there is an increase in game time for the National League, not a decrease for the American League, which leads me to believe that the factors dictating game length are not closely tied to the use of the designated hitter, but rather a combination of many factors that can dictate the length of the game.
Bottom line: @Raindog63, or if I may call you Bill, you're right—the games in the American League have been historically longer since the switch to the designated hitter—but I'm more inclined to call it a draw on this argument, considering the difference in game times is minimal, with both the American League and National League game lengths in a tie for the 2012 season so far, continuing the trend of the game length gap being eliminated between the two leagues.
At any rate, Bill, thanks for the discussion.
*Tweet is such a stupid word, and I cringe every time I use it. Does anyone else get really uncomfortable actually talking about Twitter, even with people who are on Twitter? All of the words that they choose to use, like Tweet and ReTweet are silly, but when you start getting into things like "I'm following that guy" it sounds just two steps removed from boiling a rabbit in a stranger's kitchen. Not to mention the fact that we get disappointed when someone "isn't following us back," because clearly unrequited stalking is lonely. If someone who doesn't use Twitter asks me what I'm doing on my phone, I'd rather tell them I'm posting on the Miley Cyrus message boards than admitting that I just... tweeted.
This only covers 2010, but it breaks down each team.
Interesting analysis. I've often wondered about the length of games in the AL vs NL especially given the DH. Each What I didn't like was how you called out the gentleman in the article like that.
@ladywezen I think Cee's explained that she didn't mean to call anyone out, and she certainly wasn't being mean-spirited (though I think, if she had, picking on someone who complains about the possibility of instant replay is a more than fair target). Twitter is and should be, in part, a conversation and a way to generate topics to write about. We make our Twitter accounts public for a reason, and that means that what we say is fair game for people to disagree with. Whether people are having an "argument" or a "discussion" or whatever we choose to call it.
@The Common Man You make an excellent point but the piece is executed very very poorly in that regard. The approach wasn't conversational, it was more along the lines of a condescending take down rather than conversational and professional.
Wow, it's not often that I make a comment on twitter, only to have my very existence called into question. Anyone want to see my birth certificate? I can get you the long form if you want. :) Also, I find it hysterically funny that someone might call into question whether I really do work in a library. Because, you know, librarians have special status and such.
Also, if you checked my twitter account a bit more closely, you'd see I actually do blog at ondeckcircle.wordpress.com. Whether you care to read it or not is up to you.
As far as the content of my tweet (I hate that word, too), you may have noticed the first two words read, "In part..." Nowhere did I say that the D.H. was the sole reason why A.L. games are longer. I also never said they were much longer, though you seemed to think that's what I meant in both cases. It's dangerous reading too much into a 140 character tweet. Pretty soon you end up doing lots and lots of research on a topic on which we actually have minimal difference of opinion, only to find that your research actually points to the possibility that I might be at least partially correct.
You mentioned that several other people on twitter generally shared my point of view. Why, then, make this so personal?
Lastly, I didn't realize we were having an "argument" (your word), until I read that word in your last paragraph. I thought it was merely a discussion. I assume that's why you chose the sarcastic approach here, rather than a more professionally neutral tone.
"Challenged" implies, of course, that you believe I had some emotional stake in this conversation, that I needed to show you the error of your ways, to assert my own superiority on this issue.
Cee, or if I may, "Angi," you would be wrong. It wasn't until I read this piece that I realized how much you had emotionally invested in this short conversation of ours, about a topic that really isn't all that important to me, the conclusion of which points to, at the very least, that I may at least in part be correct.
Incidentally, I have been to several Greenville Drive games. Nice park. Thanks for the tip, though.
Finally, I hate "Sweet Caroline" at ball games, too.
@WMiller81 Hey, it's Bill! Welcome to the comments on TPA, Bill!
I think you missed a key line here, "First, I was willing to overlook the fact that Bill made this comment during the Red Sox vs. Marlins game, an interleague match-up that was played at Marlins Park, meaning there was no designated hitter,but, Bill's comment had me wondering: was there any validity to this idea that American League games are longer and that the designated hitter was the culprit?"
All your conversation did was serve as the catalyst that determined me to do a little more research on the topic, and I wanted to bring it to light in the manner in which the curiosity started--that's all. It wasn't meant to belittle you or your opinions, it was actually meant in a positive manner--Twitter tends to spark all sorts of interesting conversations that get even better once someone decides to do the research.
Someone did link me to your blog this morning and I did some poking around--great concept and great site--I apologize that I didn't take the time to look into that before.
This was meant all in good fun, I'm sure you exist, I'm sure you're a librarian, and I'm also quite certain you're a Mets fan.
PS. Please don't call me Angi. That's my last name and it's a pet peeve when it's used as my first name instead.
For some reason, St. Louis Cardinals games tend to be shorter than most. Even without Tony LaRussa's incessant pitching changes.
Completely agree with the footnote. I've kind of become immune to it, but when I first started tweeting I swore I'd never actually use the word "tweeting." It just sounds SO stupid if you actually think about it for two seconds.
Also, this is great work. Also, I think Bill's assertion about replay slowing games down is crazily off-base, too (with the frequency, obviously, and I just don't think it needs to slow the game down much at all, not that Selig will ever do it anyway). I don't think I like this "Bill" much. That's probably not even his real name.
@Bill_TPA Hi Bill, You don't think replay will slow the game down? Have you bothered to watch an N.F.L. game over the past few years? Instant replay has made the game far more tedious than it used to be.
As far as whether or not "Bill" is my real identity, let's make a deal. I won't call into question your identity if you don't call into question mine.
@WMiller81 Methinks you're taking this whole thing about three, four hundred times too seriously, Bill.
But on the topic of replay, no, I don't think it will slow the game down in any noticeable way. I've written about this probably a dozen times before and don't feel the need to do it again, but the NFL (1) is a very different, much harder to accurately officiate sport, and (2) has no idea what it's doing. Their replay system has no relation at all to the simple, efficient one MLB could and should have had in place a decade or so ago.
@csimone67 Well, of course she's making more of an innocuous Twitter conversation than was called for. It inspired this whole post. But as she says above, that's all it was -- it just gave her the idea to write this. The paragraph you refer to puts a little color into what otherwise might be a pretty dry post by our standards. I don't see how anyone can really read anything more into it than that.
@Bill_TPA Well, I could in fact be wrong about what he found off-putting, but there's a lot in Cee's post that gave me the impression, without having to read too much into it, that she was making much more of an innocuous Twitter conversation than was called for. After her explanation, I believe she didn't necessarily mean anything by it, but it certainly seemed pretty snarky to me at face value.