Mitch Albom has made a boatload of money telling stories in recent years. Way more than he’s made writing and analyzing about sports. So while sports is his day job, it’s not at all surprising that he’s big on inserting dramatic narrative into things. For example, from his column yesterday, talking about why the Red Sox beat the Tigers in the ALCS:
The Tigers were simply beaten by a faster, more defensive, more opportunistic team with a finer bullpen and — and this is important — better karma. You didn’t realize until you got to Fenway and saw the B Strong carved into the outfield grass and hanging on the Green Monster wall, how much the Boston Marathon bombings six months ago gave unity and purpose to this team and city, kind of like the New Orleans Saints and Hurricane Katrina or the New York Yankees and 9/11.
This week a lot of reporters who don’t spend a lot of time covering baseball will ask the Red Sox about the Marathon Bombing and their beards and all manner of other things that make for better stories than they do baseball analysis. And it’ll be fine because the World Series draws reporters to the game who don’t normally cover baseball so, for them, that angle is new and fresh.
Not sure what Albom’s excuse is. Not sure how, in this day and age, a reporter is able to get away with claiming that “karma” and some external “unity and purpose” had an “important” bearing on the outcome of a sporting event. But good for Mitch all the same.
I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.
First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:
+10 Blue Jays
The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.
Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:
Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.
According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.
The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.
Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.
It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.