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The average postseason game so far: three hours and forty-one minutes

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Last night’s ALDS game ended before midnight, but not too long before. Yesterday’s Nats-Cubs game ended before the Yankees-Indians game, but just barely, despite starting four hours earlier. Many fans east of the Mississippi have likely not even seen the Dodgers play due to late start times, but most who began to watch their playoff games likely haven’t seen them end.

Indeed, anyone who has budgeted less than three hours for any playoff game has missed at least some action this October, because not a single playoff game has finished in less time. Don’t believe me? Here are the lengths of every 2017 playoff game through last night’s Yankees-Indians Game 5:

  • Astros-Red Sox Game 4: 4:07
  • Astros-Red Sox Game 3: 3:38
  • Red Sox-Astros Game 2: 4:00
  • Red Sox-Astros Game 1: 3:26
  • Nationals-Cubs Game 4: 3:57
  • Nationals-Cubs Game 3: 3:09
  • Cubs-Nationals Game 2: 3:06
  • Cubs-Nationals Game 1: 3:02
  • Yankees-Indians Game 5: 3:38
  • Indians-Yankees Game 4: 3:47
  • Indians-Yankees Game 3: 3:17 (1-0 game)
  • Yankees-Indians Game 2: 5:08 (13 innings)
  • Yankees Indians Game 1: 3:26
  • Dodgers-Dbacks Game 3: 3:36
  • Dbacks-Dodgers Game 2: 3:48
  • Dbacks-Dodgers Game 1: 3:37
  • Rockies-Dbacks Wild Card: 3:54
  • Twins-Yankees Wild Card: 3:51

The average game time in the 2017 playoffs so far: three hours and forty-one minutes. If you take out the 13-inning game between the Yankees and Indians as an outlier, it only brings you down to three hours and thirty-six minutes.

For comparison, last October 28, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight looked at the length of the 27 playoff games up through Game 2 of the World Series and found that they had averaged three hours and 24 minutes, which was the highest average for any continuous block of 27 games in the previous five years. Through 18 games, we’re poised to shatter that mark.

As everyone has noted, there are a lot of factors which go in to long games: replay reviews; longer commercial breaks in the playoffs; an increased number of pitching changes and mound visits; the tendency for max-effort pitchers, almost all of them throwing high-90s gas, to take longer and longer between pitches; and batters farting around and stepping out of the box in response. The measures Major League Baseball has attempted to institute to speed things up — mostly umpires directing batters to stand in and pitchers to pitch — are basically ignored now that the games mean more and the umps, presumably, want to let the players do what they want.

But whatever the reasons for these long games are, the result is a bad product for anything but the most hardcore fans.

Watching baseball games is a huge part of my job. I literally get paid to do it. I don’t write on a deadline so I don’t have to stress if they go late into the night. Bill and Ashley write in the evenings, so if I get too tired it’s OK if I go to sleep and catch up in the morning. All of which is to say that, personally speaking, I don’t get terribly upset at long games. At least not as long as they remain interesting, which long games often are.

It’s hard for me to believe, however, that people who aren’t paid to watch these games or who aren’t super invested in the outcome of any single one (i.e. casual fans) are attracted to super long games. People have lives and jobs and stuff and unless you’re a hardcore fan of one of the teams involved or on the far right of the obsessive baseball fan bell curve, you’re not likely to invest your time in a ballgame if doing so commits you to three and a half or four hours of time every single time out.

If you doubt that, know that Major League Baseball has made a point to address game length and pace, and they’re not doing it just for giggles. The league has a vested interest in maximizing fan interest, ratings and revenue, and it’s not for no reason that Rob Manfred has made game length and pace of play his top priority over the past couple of years. While an occasional marathon game can deliver peak excitement, long games as a matter of course are bad for baseball.

I can’t help but think these playoff games, however entertaining some of them have been and no matter how much I, as a baseball obsessive like them, are bad for baseball. It’s simply not the kind of product that will draw fans in or keep less-than-obsessed fans interested. I suspect Major League Baseball knows it too and that, barring some miraculous increase in the speed of these games in the NLCS, ALCS and World Series, we’re going to see some pretty major changes initiated this offseason to try address it.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.