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Umpire Joe West and Slow Games

April 12, 2010

MLB Umpire Joe West

Last week, MLB umpire Joe West created a commotion with his comments regarding the Yankees and Red Sox season opener. In an interview with the Bergen Record, West accused the two clubs of being “pathetic and embarrassing” for their slow play. West further complained that MLB is trying to speed the pace of games, but the players wouldn’t work with the umpires. Fortunately, the fine folks at retrosheet.org keep track of all things related to MLB baseball, including the total time taken to play each game. With this data, we can look at the last decade to see if the game really has slowed down, and also see who the slow umpires are.

Average Duration by Year

First, I pulled the game duration from every game in the retrosheet database from 2001 to 2009. Here are the yearly averages in minutes.

2001 – 178.97
2002 – 176.74
2003 – 170.33
2004 – 172.76
2005 – 168.78
2006 – 173.55
2007 – 176.63
2008 – 176.39
2009 – 176.62

MLB’s best efforts to speed up the game came in 2005, where the average duration was 169 minutes. Compared to 2009, the time savings was a little under 9 minutes. That is an insignificant amount of time over a 3 hour period.

Average Duration by Umpire

In his interview with the Bergen Record, West also mentioned that his crew, specifically Angel Hernandez, did everything they could to speed up the game, including denying requests for time outs. This got me thinking – do some umpires regularly work games faster than others? Again, I went to the retrosheet database, found the duration for each game in 2009, assigned the length of the game to the plate umpire, then took the average for each umpire. Here are the results. The dashed orange line represents the length of the average game in 2009176.62 minutes.

2009 Average Game Length By Umpire

In 2009, Joe West averaged 179.19 minutes per game – 2.5 minutes slower than the average game. This places West among the bottom 1/3 (slowest) in game duration. In contrast, “speedy” Angel Hernandez averaged 174.55 minutes per game. While this placed him among the top 1/3 in shortest average game lengths, it was still only 5 minutes per game faster than Joe West.

Most umpires call on the order of 30 games per year, so time specific items such as the home team winning in 8.5 innings, or games going into extra innings, average out over the course of a season. However, when you look at the chart, there definitely are differences between plate umpires. Gary Darling called 28 games last year, and averaged 164 minutes per game. Jerry Crawford called 29 games, and averaged 188 minutes per game. That’s nearly a 1/2 hour difference in game length.

Would you rather go to a 3 hour game called by Jerry Crawford or a 2 1/2 hour game called by Gary Darling? On the one hand, you’d have time for an extra beer with Crawford calling balls and strikes. On the other hand, you’d see a crisper paced game with Darling behind the plate. What do you think?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010 9:01 PM

    Thank you for your post keep doing.

  2. Wayne permalink
    April 13, 2010 5:27 PM

    Your chart is flawed. There are plenty of umpires listed who did not work in MLB in 2009.

    • April 13, 2010 7:48 PM

      I got this info from retrosheet. I’ll compare it to PitchF/X data and check out the differences. If you know of any names off of the top of your head, please tell me so I can forward it to retrosheet for correction.

  3. April 16, 2010 6:41 PM

    Awesome post with statistics – you are the first to actually use data, kudos. Perhaps you can help me with my take on it (http://wp.me/pMW8w-cG), which is that I believe it is the greed of the league with longer TV commercials over time that lengthens games. One extra minute per half inning adds 18 minutes to a game no matter how slow or fast the play. Can you find data on average TV spot every half inning?

    • April 17, 2010 10:32 PM

      Next time you go to a game, watch the field umps. They have stop watches in their back pockets. Nationally broadcast games are timed at 2:25 each half inning. Locally broadcast games are timed at 2:05.

      That’s another fallacy with West’s argument. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox obviously get more national games than teams like the Nats and Royals. By MLB rules, nationally broadcast games are 5 1/2 minutes longer than locally brodcast games, independent of other factors.

  4. Andy permalink
    May 21, 2010 4:28 PM

    I never understood, from a fan’s perspective, why you want the game to end early (2 1/2 hours). The more baseball the better!! Bring back the double-headers!!

  5. Amirog permalink
    March 12, 2017 10:02 PM

    мин воды отдых у воды

    авиабилеты кострома барнаул

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