### Why are Yankees/Red Sox games so slow?

There's been lots of talk lately about how Yankees and Red Sox games take too long and move too slow.

Part of the "take too long" part is that those games tend to have lots of plate appearances and pitches. But another part is just that Red Sox and Yankee players tend to play slowly -- Derek Jeter appearing to be the worst of many offenders.

I figured that out with a study that's basically a large regression (thanks to WSJ's Carl Bialik for requesting it; Carl wrote about it earlier this week).

Here's what I did. I took every game from 2000 to 2009, and tried to predict game time from a bunch of different factors -- the number of pitches in the game, the number of innings, how many of the last few innings were close, how many steal attempts there were (to try to account for pickoff throws), the attendance, how many relievers were used, how many plate appearances there were, and how many runs were scored.

Those coefficients were mostly as you'd expect -- every extra pitch took about 23.3 seconds extra. Every half-inning that was close (as opposed to when the score was a blowout) added 47 seconds. Every reliever added 2:13 (probably the time to warm up the pitcher, if the change was mid-inning). And so on.

I also adjusted for the season in which the games took place. The results surprised me a bit; I hadn't realize that, all else being equal, games were almost four minutes slower in 2000-2001 than they were in 2009. But 2009 was the slowest game time since 2003. The fastest games of the decade were in 2004, when they were 4:54 faster than 2009, all else being equal.

I checked months, too, and April and September are fastest. Summer games are about two minutes longer than April. Maybe everyone hurries a bit more to get out of the cold?

Then, the fun part: For 1105 different players, I assigned each a dummy variable, which represented whether or not he was in the starting lineup that day (I was using Retrosheet game logs, so starting lineup was all I could get without digging into play-by-play data). I included any player who had at least one season of 250 AB between 2000 and 2009, or, for pitchers, at least one season of 25 games started.

Finally, I calculated one factor separately for every team, after adjusting for the players in the starting lineup. Those weren't that interesting. I think most of what they represent is how fast the *other* players are -- spot starters, relief pitchers, September callups who never got to 250 AB.

However: Boston and the Yankees were still among the slowest: their games were a minute or two longer than the average other team, even after adjusting for individual players. I wonder if that means there's something else going on: maybe the Yankees and Red Sox announcers are really slow, and the batters have to wait longer to get started? More research is required there.

Anyway, after doing all that, I got estimates for the effect of every player separately -- that is, how much longer or shorter games were with him in the lineup, compared to a player in the lineup instead who wasn't one of the 1,104 others in the study. It turns out that the missing players and relievers are faster than the regulars and starters, by about 26 seconds a batter, 11 seconds a catcher, and 19 seconds a pitcher. Because of that, I adjusted every regular by subtracting the average of his group, because it makes more sense to compare him to the other 1,104 regulars instead of the September callups and relievers.

So the final result gives a kind of "with or without you" factor for every player. For instance, take Derek Jeter. He was the second-highest in "delay of game" factor among batters (excluding catchers). All else being equal, the regression tells us that a game with Derek Jeter in the starting lineup was 3 minutes and 30 seconds slower than the exact same game where he wasn't in the lineup. It turns out that Jeter was the second-slowest batter in the study.

3:30 seems like a lot to me. How much is Jeter really involved in the play? Maybe 4 or 5 plate appearances a game, which is 15 or 20 pitches? That works out to between 10 and 15 seconds a pitch.

Does Derek Jeter really take an extra ten seconds between pitches than the average batter? I haven't watched him bat that closely, but maybe you guys can let me know if that's a reasonable estimate. There is some randomness involved in the regression, and, since Jeter was the second highest in the league, you might want to regress his number to the mean a little bit. But still -- his game factor of 3:30 was 3.6 standard deviations from zero, so it's almost certain that he's pretty slow.

I suppose that theoretically, it could also be his defense ... when he catches a pop up, does he do a little 30 second dance before throwing the ball? Doesn't seem likely to me. Baserunning seems like a better candidate ... maybe Jeter draws a lot of throws when he's on first base, but doesn't steal much (steal attempts appear in the regression). I should have had the regression account for pickoff throws, but I didn't think of it until now.

As in any regression, there could be something else going on. It could be that there's something special about the games that Jeter misses that make them a lot faster than otherwise. For instance: when I did my first pass at this, I found that Jeter was slow by almost six minutes, rather than three-and-a-half. Why? Because my first pass didn't control for season. And about half the games Jeter missed in the decade came in 2003, when games were about four minutes shorter than normal. So the games he missed were faster than the games he played for reasons other than his slowness.

So, if you want to take a guess at other reasons Jeter's number might be too high, you need something like that. Something that makes games faster, that would be disproportionately applicable to games that Jeter missed. And that "something" has to be something not controlled for in the study -- something other than year, month, attendance, other players in the lineup, and so on.

I couldn't come up with anything, but that doesn't mean that you won't.

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Anyway, let me show you the top ten fast and slow players, and you can decide for yourself if the results seem reasonable. Here are the slow batters. Minutes are in decimals (4.5 equals four minutes thirty seconds) because I'm too lazy to convert:

+4.31 Denard Span

+3.51 Derek Jeter

+3.28 Miguel Tejada

+2.87 Rickie Weeks

+2.72 Albert Belle

+2.45 Dustin Pedroia

+2.43 Dante Bichette

+2.25 Greg Dobbs

+2.22 David Segui

+2.21 Reggie Abercrombie

And here are the fast batters:

-3.41 Chris Getz

-3.12 Kevin Jordan

-2.97 Nick Markakis

-2.79 Jake Fox

-2.74 Mark Ellis

-2.62 Will Venable

-2.49 Jose Lopez

-2.29 Mark McGwire

-2.23 Warren Morris

-2.19 Chris Davis

I did catchers separately, because you can't know how much of their speed is due to their batting, and how much is due to their catching. If a guy catches 140 pitches a game, and takes an extra half-second to throw each one back to the pitcher, that's an extra minute he's adding to the game. So you'd expect the catchers to have more extreme numbers than the other batters, and they do. Here are the slow catchers:

+6.01 Gary Bennett

+5.63 Benito Santiago

+4.73 Einar Diaz

+4.43 Tom Wilson

+4.12 Ryan Hanigan

+3.76 Doug Mirabelli

+3.05 Javier Valentin

+2.87 Eliezer Alfonzo

+2.44 Kelly Shoppach

+2.40 Mike Piazza

And the fast catchers:

-4.67 Eddie Perez

-4.09 Josh Bard

-3.88 Omir Santos

-3.88 Chris Coste

-3.58 Jeff Clement

-3.35 Ken Huckaby

-3.33 Charles Johnson

-2.97 John Flaherty

-2.97 Tom Lampkin

-2.61 Ben Davis

Finally, starting pitchers. These guys have a huge impact on game time ... I guess they vary a lot in how much time they take to get ready for the next pitch. Slow pitchers:

+7.32 Gil Heredia

+7.14 Steve Trachsel

+6.98 Matt Garza

+5.49 Armando Reynoso

+5.32 Jason Johnson

+5.22 Kevin Appier

+5.04 Chien-Ming Wang

+4.98 Ross Ohlendorf

+4.88 Edinson Volquez

+4.86 Elmer Dessens

And the fast pitchers. It's ironic that the guy who throws the slowest actually pitches the fastest. (Well, maybe not *that* ironic, but certainly more ironic than rain on your wedding day.)

-7.71 Tim Wakefield

-7.36 Kevin Tapani

-6.69 Glendon Rusch

-5.88 Steve Sparks

-5.39 Kirk Rueter

-5.13 James Baldwin

-5.08 Joe Blanton

-5.02 Ben Sheets

-4.99 Mark Buehrle

-4.98 Matt Morris

Tim Lincecum is 16th fastest, by the way, at -4.24.

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Now that we know the slow and fast players, we can do teams by adding up all the players. I'll just do a version of the Yankees and Red Sox, to see if those guys really do slow down the game. Here's the starting lineups from the Red Sox/Yankees game of April 4, 2010:

+3.5 Derek Jeter

-0.8 Nick Johnson

-0.7 Mark Teixeira

+0.9 Alex Rodriguez

+1.9 Robinson Cano

+1.3 Jorge Posada

-0.9 Curtis Granderson

+0.0 Nick Swisher

+1.1 Brett Gardner

-0.4 CC Sabathia

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+5.9 Yankees total

-0.2 Jacoby Ellsbury

+2.5 Dustin Pedroia

+1.2 Victor Martinez

+0.6 Kevin Youkilis

+0.4 David Ortiz

+0.3 Adrian Beltre

-0.6 J.D. Drew

+0.2 Mike Cameron

+1.2 Marco Scutaro

+3.6 Josh Beckett

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+9.1 Red Sox total

So, our estimate is that the game took 15 minutes longer than it would have if average teams had been playing, instead of Boston and New York. That seems like a lot to me.

As it turns out, it was a 9-7 slugfest that went 3:46.

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On August 18, 2006, the first game of a doubleheader, the Red Sox beat the visiting Yankees 10-4, in 3 hours and 55 minutes. The starting lineups for those two teams featured players who would be expected to be 24.4 minutes slower than average. That was the slowest-playered game in the decade; of the 20 men in the combined starting lineups, 18 of them were slow. Only Jason Giambi and Craig Wilson were faster than average, by a combined 50 seconds.

The game with the fastest players last decade took place on April 16, 2008. Seattle beat Oakland 4-2. The regression predicted that the game should have taken 20.2 minutes less than normal. It was indeed a very fast game, at 2:09, but, of course, that's partly because it didn't turn out to be much of a slugfest.

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Keep in mind that these estimates for individual players really aren't all that precise. The standard error of a typical player is between half a minute and a minute. When Kevin Youkilis comes in at +0.6 minutes slower than average, but his standard error is also 0.6, there's a pretty good chance (about 1 in 6) that he could very well be *faster* than average.

You're on more solid ground when you assume that an extreme player (like Jeter or Markakis) is fast or slow, or when you add a bunch of players together.

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I've put the data up on my website, in an Excel spreadsheet. It contains two worksheets: one that gives you slowness estimates for all the players, and another that's the full regression results. I'll annotate that one later so it's easier to understand, and I'll come back and update this post.

I might also rerun this for the 1980s ... if only to see just how slow Mike Hargrove actually was.