Longer MLB Games Equal “More” Foul Balls?: The Whole Truth about Foul Ball Rates

As those who read my blog know, I have the most complete data on historical foul ball rates in Major League Baseball that is publicly available to all (I don’t charge people for information that should be free). A few people have attempted to use the data to prove that foul ball rates are increasing at an alarming speed. They are using the data erroneously. The NUMBER of fouls per game is increasing. The PERCENTAGE rate is not. It’s actually decreased to the point of being consistently around the rate it was nearly 30 years ago.

The following outlines how the percentage rates for fouls has remained reasonably constant over the years. What’s changed? The length of the game. The length gives the impression, a false one at that, that rates are increasing.

Logically we all know that numbers and percentages are very different. Games since 1988 when I have the most complete data through the 2015 season show there is a steady increase in the number of fouls per 9 innings. But the issue isn’t that more fouls are being hit. Those who argue there are more balls are right, but also wrong.

In fact, the increase isn’t a true increase at all. Games are longer now. Largely due to pitching changes and commercial breaks.

We have longer games but, as it turns out, the rates for foul balls has stayed relatively constant since 1988. When we figure in the number of foul balls at a rate in relation to minutes played, we see foul ball rates have stayed nearly the exact same.

This lends more evidence to the argument that fouls aren’t occurring more often. They occur at the same rate. Thus, shortening games back to 2:45 will only mean fewer foul balls, but at a similar rate as now.

Game lengths for each decade 1988-2000, 2001-2010, 2011-present.

2014: 3:09
2004: 2:51
1994: 2:58
1984: 2:40
(via http://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2014/6/19/5824368/mlb-games-are-getting-longer-and-longer)











(via http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2015/1/29/7921283/baseball-game-length-visual-analysis)

Ave time/selection 5 year increments (hours (minutes):
1988: 2:35 (155)
1990: 2:47 (167)
1995: 2:50 (170)
2000: 2:57 (177)
2005: 2:45 (165)
2010: 2:50 (170)
2015: 2:56 (176)

Number of balls on average per half decade:
1988: 44.6
1990: 44.2
1995: 46
2000: 47.7
2005: 47.7
2010: 48.2
2015: 50

To find the RATE of Major League foul balls per minute in each period, I converted the time to minutes and did the simple math. The results will surprise those who claim there are more foul balls hit now than before…

The half-decade rates:
1988: 3.48
1990: 3.78
1995: 3.70
2000: 3.70
2010: 3.53
2015: 3.52

The rates have stayed the same for the last 15 years, a drop from the previous 15 years, and nearly as low as they were in 1988, the first year I have full data for.

As we see, the crying and whining by those like Andy Zlotnick who claim the rate of foul balls has increased is…to be blunt, B.S. The rates haven’t climbed at all. They actually decreased 15 years ago and have been steady for the last 15 years.

So what is going on with the number of foul balls? The game length. That’s it. It is THAT simple. Pseudo-fans aren’t looking at the facts. Instead they’ve made this an emotional issue. But like I’ve said in a number of posts and tweets, fans need to start paying attention again. Start keeping score again. Nobody is forcing you to look at your phones. The rates aren’t increasing, game length is.

Then, we need to get better ideas to decrease game time length. I’ve made a few recommendations in this post, but MLB and Manfred don’t like listening to logic, just the perception of emotion. The fact is, as we now see, the current pace-of-game changes appeared to work in 2015. During that season, length dropped from the previous year, but was still six seconds longer than five years prior. Last year, those Manfred-era changes proved to be an epic failure as the average game length jumped a whopping 30 seconds.

It’s time for people to start looking at the facts about pace-of-game and foul ball dangers. The real danger is game length and people not paying attention.

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