Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Aren't People Tuning in to the MLB Playoffs?

According to the Neilsen Sunday night televsion ratings, the NFL game dominated drawing a 6.9 rating in comparison to a 1.9 rating for the NLCS game on Fox.  This should come as no surprise as the NFL has consistenly clobbered MLB over the years. But there is a bigger issue at play in Major League Baseball, that gets amplified during the playoffs and World Series: the length of the games and the sheer amount of dead-time continue to rise and it makes the games more difficult to watch.

The average length of a regular season MLB game has been on the rise from an average length of 150 minutes in the 1970's to the current average of about 175. Thus far, the average length of a playoff game in 2012 has been 206 minutes. A closer look at the American League numbers show that there were three extra inning games lasting 12, 12 and 13 innings respectively.  Removing them from the calculation completely drops the average down to 199 minutes, so that is still an increase of 24 minutes compared to a regular season game.  This may not seem like a lot but considering the primetime games typically start after 8pm ET, viewers in the Eastern time zone will typically need to stay up past 11:30 to get a result. Not so easy, especially for the early risers.

There may be a bigger reason that viewers may be tuning out: the amount of dead-time during a game.  The first game of the ALCS between the Yankees and the Tigers lasted 294 minutes, 6 minutes shy of 5 hours. In 12 innings, 14 pitchers were sent out to the mound--that's 12 pitching changes with at least one or more coaching visit, a walk in from the bullpen and the requisite number of warmup pitches. An astonishing total of 425 pitches were thrown during the marathon, which brings us to the next source of dead-time: the deliberate approach taken by both pitchers and batters. I don't have stats to support it, but there seems to be agreement that at bats are extended during the postseason because they "matter more."  Batters are said to be grinding it out and are taking pitchers deeper into the count.  If this was the case, we would expect to see the number of pitches per inning to be much higher in the postseason compared to the regular season.  However, as the chart below shows, that is not the case:

Regular Season(MLB) 32.5
Postseason(NL) 30.1
Postseason(AL) 33.4

So it may be safe to blame the longer games on a combination of the following:
  • extended time between innings
  • more pitching changes
  • more delays added by pitchers stepping off the rubber and hitters being granted time out
  • more pickoff attempts
Some of these could certainly be addressed by MLB. Whatever the case, the viewers have spoken:  Some postseason games are painfully long and the lack of action only makes it harder to stay tuned in. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Experience and Clutch Hitting Become the Difference

MLB added an additional wild card starting this year to give more teams an opportunity to take part in the playoff race. But after the dust cleared and the tears were wiped from the eyes of the distraught in Cincinnati and DC, we are left with four clubs who are familiar with success--together they have appeared in 10 World Series since 2000 and include the winners of the last two. So, if the purpose of the new format was to help with competitive balance, it really didn't accomplish its purpose. 

If the playoffs could be summed up in a couple words it would be experience and clutch hitting. Veterans CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander provided the hammer in the rubber games for the Yanks and Tigers. The Cardinals used their experience and got some unlikely clutch hitting contributions to dig out of a 6-0 hole. The Reds fell behind by the same margin in their Game 5 but just couldn't get that last clutch hit. One consolation for all the losers: they are all relatively young and perhaps another year of experience will prepare them to get over the hump next year...pitchers and catchers report in 4 months.

Take a look at the teams remaining on the Playoff Dashboard.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Comparing the 2012 MLB World Series Contenders

The graph above compares the 2012 MLB playoff teams by plotting runs scored versus runs allowed per game. The 2012 Major League average is 4.33 RPG. Also included are the average for all the playoff teams since 1994, when divisional series were added to the playoffs. A few observations:

1. There is a wide contrast between the clubs, with the Yankees scoring almost 5 runs per game(2nd to Texas) and the Reds giving up only 3.63 runs(tops in MLB).
2. The numbers for the Washington Nationals, with the highest run differential of almost 0.9 RPG, support the fact that they finished with best record in baseball.
3. Teams from the American League give up more RPG than their National League counterparts, which reflects the overall difference(4.45 to 4.22) between the AL and NL.
4. The Baltimore Orioles are spot on the Major League average in both runs scored and allowed which is testimony to their gaudy 29-9 record in one-run contests.
5. Comparing the 2012 numbers to the averages for the playoff teams since 1994 is just more evidence that 2012 was indeed the year of the pitcher.

So which type of team will come away with a World Series title? An offense minded team like the Yankees or a team focused on pitching and defense like the Reds or Nationals? Or will it be a more balanced team like Detroit or the defending champion Cardinals? Would love to hear your observations and comments.