BOSTON (AP) — The analytics crowd isn’t accepting blame for baseball’s big slowdown.
“I plead not guilty,” statistics pioneer Bill James said on Friday. “I don’t have nothin’ to do with this.”
As baseball games get longer and less action-packed, the sport has been looking for ways to reverse the fan-unfriendly trend. Among the biggest targets: infield shifts, and batters who swing for the fences — both tactics encouraged by analytics.
But James said on Friday that the trend toward inaction predated new philosophies like pursuing the “three true outcomes” — home runs, strikeouts and walks — that drag out the games.
“I don’t see the causal link between the things that we do and the aesthetic problems in the game,” James said at this year’s virtual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
“A train running downhill will accelerate. It’s an out-of-control train and it is accelerating. But it was moving at a pretty good speed before we got involved in it,” he said. “It would be helpful if we could find a way to slow the train down.”
While baseball games hovered around 2 hours, 30 minutes for much of the post-WWII era, the length began creeping upward in 1979 and hit 3 hours in 2012; so far this season, a typical game takes 3:16, according to Baseball-Reference.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the time of game is not the problem: It’s the long periods of inaction. Those are often blamed on mathematicians who have essentially number-crunched exciting plays like stolen bases and the hit-and-run out of the game.
“From a team point of view, that’s not a concern of ours,” said Josh Ruffin, an advanced scouting analyst for the Minnesota Twins.
Manfred has appointed former Red Sox and Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a consultant to…