Baseball games: getting longer?

August 11, 2010

(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

ESPN’s Bill Simmons (aka The Sports Guy) recently suggested that the primary cause of dwindling interest in Red Sox games by fans is that baseball games these days are too long. "It’s not that fun to spend 30-45 minutes driving to a game, paying for parking, parking, waiting in line to get in, finding your seat … and then, spend the next three-plus hours watching people play baseball", he says. But this is a relatively new phenomenon: are the games really any longer today than they used to be?

Inspired by the column and having recently learned about the power of R‘s ggplot2 package to visualize data, R user (and baseball fan) Ryan Elmore decided to find out. He wrote code to scrape from the Web data on the lengths of all MLB games since 1970, and then created some lovely visualizations using ggplot 2 and R. For example, here’s a scatterplot of the lengths of games from all teams over time, with a smooth trend indicating a clear lengthening of the game, at least through the turn of the century:

Lengths of MLB gamesThe peak average game length comes during the "Steroids Era" of Baseball, which Ryan delineates on the chart with the dashed red lines. Beyond that peak, there appears to be a slow but steady decline in the length of the games (although still more than 20 minutes longer than games in the 70’s). So how does this explain the disaffectation of Red Sox fans suggested by The Sports Guy? Ryan takes it one step further, and break out Red Sox games separately:

Red Sox games

So it does seem that Boston games are indeed getting longer, lending credence to the Sports Guy’s claim. However: I’m no baseball expert, but I’m pretty sure there have been more than 3 Red Sox games since 2004, and the apparent increase may just be a fluke. Given that Ryan has posted his code in R to create the chart, maybe someone with access to more data can verify the result? If you do, let us know in the comments. 

The Log Cabin: Are MLB games getting longer?

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