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How much "action" is there during a baseball game

Oct 6, 2010, 9:48 AM EDT

More than the folks at the Wall Street Journal think, that I can tell you.

Last January the Wall Street Journal studied some football games and determined that, once you eliminate all of the standing around between plays and everything, there was only about 11 minutes of actual action in a game.  Now they have done the same thing for baseball. Their verdict: 14 minutes.

While interesting, this study is a bit misleading. Why? Check out the methodology:

The stopwatch would start when a pitcher lifted his leg to begin his
pitching motion. The timing would stop when the ball hit the catcher’s
mitt or, if it was put in play, when the presiding umpire made a call or
the players all stopped moving (pickoff attempts and steals were also
counted as action).

I don’t know about you, but I consider the time after the batter is actually in the
box and the pitcher is getting the signs, checking runners and the like to be “action.” Why? Because unlike the periods between plays in football, the ball
is technically live at that point and there is something valuable and observable

Sure, maybe the players aren’t running or doing backflips or anything during that time, but if those things are all that count, you’re working with a pretty narrow definition of “action.” When the batter is stepping in and the pitcher is coming set we can learn all sorts of things. If the battery is on the same page. If the pitcher is getting tired. If you’re at the ballpark — or, if the director of the broadcast is on his game — you can simultaneously judge all of this interplay plus baserunner behavior and defensive positioning. Hell, there’s all sorts of action going on before the pitch.

The WSJ acknowledges this, quoting Bob Costas and George Will, each of whom note that the definition of “action” in baseball can be subjective. I’m guessing some people would consider this one of the problems with baseball. I consider it one of its better attributes.

  1. The Steve Jeltz Experiment - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    This may be a flaw in their methodology for both sports — maybe they did count it, but the time before the snap in football is also pretty active, particularly if Peyton Manning is involved. And interesting to football fans just as waiting for the pitcher to start his windup is interesting for baseball fans.
    Bottom line: different games are interesting for different reasons. Part of the majesty of baseball is that there’s so much taking place between every pitch — and with the exception of someone like Nomar adjusting his batting gloves, it’s pretty interesting.

  2. DiamondDuq - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    Well said Craig! This is one of my biggest annoyances with critics of baseball who aren’t actual fans of baseball. Small little intricacies are precisely what make baseball the greatest sport there is. Far too often in society these days “action” is all anyone is interested in and the finer details are not appreciated. It is my presumption this is also why today’s pitchers aren’t as effective as pitchers of the past. All pitchers seem to be concerned with these days is lighting up the radar gun and having the “nastiest” stuff with no regard to “reading” the batter, pitch sequence or pitch selection. Similarly, defensive positioning is something that happens, at least by better players, on nearly every play. What’s lost in all these “advanced fielding metrics” is positioning. For instance, a physically superior shortstop has better range ratings but another shortstop who gets to the same ball by knowing the pitcher, knowing the batter, knowing the pitch and being better positioned is hurt because he didn’t go as far to get the ball? Give me a break!

  3. Josh in DC - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    I saw this as a huge baseball fan, but there is WAY too much time between pitches, and too many mound conferences. These moments do NOT add to the drama.

  4. NYCBaseball - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    I think the fact that today’s instant-gratification 24-hour-news-cycle Twitter/Facebook-on-your-mobile-phone society is growing impatient with baseball says more about us than it does about the game.

  5. Alex Poterack - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    It’s true that advanced fielding metrics don’t take positioning into account, but the problem with this is actually the opposite of what you say. If a player is able to get to a ball hit in a certain location, he’s given the same amount of credit it for it whether he had to run 50 feet and make a fabulous diving stop or whether he was standing right there. There’s absolutely no such thing as a player being “hurt because he didn’t go as far to get the ball”, because no advanced fielding metric that I’m aware of even at all considers the actual distance that a player had to go to get a ball (they do consider the distance implicitly, by giving extra credit on balls hit far away from where a player is positioned on average, for instance, but this would not hurt a player who got to the ball more easily because he positioned himself well).
    The real issue with positioning not being included is that positioning is often set by the coaching staff, so you have the difficulty of trying to determine whether a player’s high rating is due to their physical ability, which of course would translate over to a new team acquiring them, or due to their coaching staff’s positioning work, which presumably would not.

  6. Joe - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    Actually, that’s not what the “advanced fielding metrics” would say at all. All the metrics are concerned with is how many balls a player makes a play on. If they get to the ball via range or via positioning, it’s all the same – it gets counted as a play made. Just like a dribbler to the shortstop or a line drive in front of an outfielder both get credited as a single.
    Also, are you sure that today’s pitchers aren’t as effective as in the past?

  7. Josh in DC - Oct 6, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    No, it reflects the fact that games are lasting longer than ever.

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