Does it feel like the Yankees are more entertaining this year than most? It’s a thought that’s come to me over the past couple of weeks. 2017 was great, and the team was really good, but this year seems more fun. Even the end of 2016, with Gary Sanchez rewriting the history books every game, wasn’t as fast-paced as 2018 feels.
Truth is, this season really is going by faster than last. So far in 2018, the Yankees’ average time for a nine-inning game is 3:03, down seven minutes from last season, and on par with 2016’s pace. After all of baseball panicked about rising game times last year, and for all the complaints about the Yankees’ overexposure and overadvertising dragging on the game, the team has got to be in Rob Manfred’s good graces in this category for now.
Meanwhile, the main culprit dragging down the Yankee game times is predictable, as the nine games the team has played against the Red Sox have averaged a comical 3:20. Sunday Night Baseball is definitely guilty of stretching #TheRivalry thin, but even the non-ESPN games are getting more than a bit long, as only one of the nine Yankees-Sox games in 2018 have come in under three hours - 11%. Conversely, 44.4% of all other games the team plays are finished in less than three hours, which seems to be right around the target time for MLB as a whole.
The cause of this uptick in pace is much more interesting, though, in that it’s hard to figure out just what it is. After commercials, the biggest contributing factor to a game’s length is the time between pitches, or a pitcher’s pace. The Yankees boast the tenth-slowest pitching staff in all of baseball, releasing a pitch every 24.3 seconds.
That’s a slight improvement, about half a second quicker than in 2017, but is hardly among the most improved marks in the league. The following chart shows the difference between 2018 and 2017 paces, with positives indicating pitchers taking longer, and negatives shorter:
Individual pitchers have decreased their pace sharply for the Yankees, with both David Robertson and Dellin Betances shaving more than a second off their times from last year to now. But no pitcher moves the needle enough to make up for the drop in game time.
Is it simply then that innings are shorter since the Yankee pitching staff is that much better? The team is walking fewer men than 2017, with a lower WHIP, and it could just be Yankee pitchers are generally avoiding the long, multiple-run scoring innings. Not only is this better for the team as a whole, it keeps the games shorter, and close to that golden three hour mark.
It’s unclear what effect a faster pace actually has on the game itself. Both players and front office members eagerly promote the idea that pitching quicker leads to better defensive play, since the fielders are all more engaged. Meanwhile, the best empirical research shows that there’s really no difference in defensive ability - see Ben Lindbergh’s work here. Either way, the Yankees are moving along quicker than they have before, and it’s made for some of the best baseball to watch in the league.