Major League Baseball, and in particular Bob Watson who is responsible for standards and on-field operations, has tried to tighten the screws on the teams in an effort to make the games shorter. Watson recently told Business Week, “We’ve created a monster. Will we ever get this under control? I don’t know”. (Of course, he isn't looking to cut back on the amount of time sold to advertisers which necessitates that commercial breaks last about two minutes and thirty seconds each, but that's a different issue for another day).
Might the Yankees and Red Sox have done Watson a favor with some of their offseason moves? Is it possible that because the way the teams are constructed this year, the games might naturally be a little shorter?
The reasoning for the games being shorter this year goes something like this: Both teams improved their starting pitching and defense. Better starting pitchers allow fewer baserunners which lead to fewer plate appearances. Solid starters also go deeper into games, meaning that there should be fewer pitching changes, each of which - if executed mid-inning - takes several minutes (unless it's Jonathan Papelbon, in which case it takes several hours). Improved defenses also turn more balls in play into outs, thereby eliminating at bats and conserving starter's pitch counts.
Of course, there are two sides to the equation. As the article Business Week points out, the Yankees and Red Sox saw the most pitches in baseball last year, largely as a function of the fact that they scored the first and third most runs in the game, respectively. The Yankees also added Nick Johnson who saw 4.36 pitches per plate appearance last year, third most in the MLB.
What the article didn't mention was the fact that last year's slate of Yanks/Sox games included a 5 and a half hour, 15 inning marathon and 9 inning games with final scores of 20-11, 16-11, 14-1 and 13-6. The Yanks scored 99 runs in those 18 games and the Sox plated 101, so it's not just mound visits, crotch adjustments and "talking to the ball" as Watson claims, that are taking up everyone's time.
Additionally, these games often air on national networks and the additional commercials on ESPN and FOX slow them down. God Bless America probably adds a couple of minutes to each game played at Yankee Stadium as well.
Sunday night's 3:46 affair was not the best start for my half-baked theory, but I'm willing to bet that there will be some regression towards the mean in terms of the duration of the games. I'm not sure if they will come all the way down to the Yanks' average mark of 3:08 but it's a good bet that the average length will be lower than 3:20 by the time all 18 games are in the books.