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.