Average Time of 9-Inning MLB Game Hits a New All-Time High

MLB's efforts to improve the pace of play at the major league level have proven to be ineffective

Michael Wacha of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees
Michael Wacha of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees.
Mike Stobe/Getty

Despite Major League Baseball’s efforts to quicken the pace of play on the diamond, the average time of a nine-inning MLB game increased for the third straight season in 2021 to hit an all-time high.

This season, the average MLB game took three hours, 10 minutes and seven seconds to play, up from 3:07:46 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 3:05:35 in 2019. Baseball tried to speed up the game by instituting a three-batter minimum for relievers last season in order to cut down on the number of pitching changes, but offset that measure by increasing the size of active rosters across the league to 28, giving managers more bullpen options. This season, MLB teams used an average of 4.43 pitchers per game, the same as in 2020.

Forty years ago, the average MLB game had an average time of just 2:33. A decade after that it was 2:48. Then in 2001 the average time jumped to 2:58 before increasing to 2:51 in 2011. And now here we are.

Interestingly, while games took longer in 2021, it wasn’t due to more runs being scored. This season, MLB teams scored an average of 9.06 runs per game, down from 9.29 in 2020 and 9.66 in 2019. Longer games with less action is probably a reason why average attendance is down more than 10,000 people compared to 2019 at 18,651. (The lingering effects of the pandemic and COVID-19 concerns are also a huge factor.)

If MLB chooses to use it, it appears the league does have a solution, as implementing a 15-second pitch clock in the low minors helped the Low-A West League cut down average game times by 21 minutes. In addition to cutting down the length of games by reducing the amount of dead time, the introduction of the clock has coincided with more runs being scored and more home runs being hit in addition to a reduction in both walks and strikeouts.

“At first, I’d say I was skeptical because I’m an old-fashioned, it’s the only game without a clock, kind of person,” Stockton manager Rico Brogna told The Athletic. “And I always thought that’s kind of neat and unique to baseball … But I have been shocked, surprised, and pleasantly, that it has been a really, really good addition.”

While the league can’t implement the clock in the majors without the approval of the union, MLB may try to negotiate the arrival of the time-saving measure within the coming years.

“Keep an open mind — because amid the two gazillion rule experiments being tried out across the minor leagues, there might be more potential in this one, to pave a path for a better game, than all the others put together,” Jayson Stark writes in The Athletic.

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