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Unlike most other popular sports, baseball games are not clocked. A game could last hours — and in fact, so can a single inning. There is no timer to stop a game or inning, and only recently were umpires instructed to move pitchers and batters along to quicken the pace of Major League Baseball games.
So, how long does an inning last in baseball, anyway, on average? For the 2019 MLB season, the average inning lasted about 20 and a half minutes (20.56 to be precise). That is, if you start with the average length of a game, and divide it by the number of innings per game, or 9. Yet, the true length of a baseball inning might not be attainable — because there is no clock recording the moment from the first pitch to the last out each inning. (At least clocks visible to the public).
Using an average game time divided by innings does not take into account for breaks between innings, breaks in play or pitching changes. It is possible to get to a 20-minute average inning; but impossible to determine precisely how long an average inning of play lasts.
Official ‘Length’ of Baseball Innings Explored
Officially the “length” of an inning in baseball is a total of six consecutive outs, or three per team. However long that takes is up to the pitcher, batter, and fielders. Innings as recording instruments are divided into halves, with the away team batting during what is called the “top” half of the inning, the home team during the “bottom” half.
The top-bottom delineation aligns with how a game line score is recorded in scorebooks and scoreboards: with the away team listed first followed by a row of squares for runs scored each inning; immediately below that would be the home team name, followed at right by its squares to mark runs.
For a range of reasons baseball games — and innings — have lasted longer than every. This phenomenon prompted league officials to change rules to speed up the game, such as giving the umpire discretion to penalize pitchers or batters who diddle away time between throwing or setting up in the batter’s box. For instance, an umpire can call a ball or a strike automatically on a pitcher or batter if he or she takes too long, without a pitch being thrown.
Timer Between Pitches?
The time that baseball innings last can vary greatly. It could be as little as a few minutes, if for instance only three pitches result in three fast outs. On the other end of the spectrum, some innings can last more than an hour, if teams bat around the order and there are multiple pitching switches. Regardless, there is no time limit per baseball rules.
A great factor in inning length is how long it takes for a pitcher, from the time he receives the ball to when he delivers it, to initiate play. Twenty seconds is the norm to expect the pitcher to deliver — yet to date there is no publicly visible clock as seen in pro basketball with its 24-second clock, for instance.
Major League Baseball does use a timer to track time between innings, visits to the pitching mound by coaches, and time between hitters. But as of yet, it’s an umpire’s discretion whether a player is taking too long to play.
More Information: Inning-Stretching Factors
Aside from the pitcher, there are a number of factors that impact how long innings and games last:
- When games remain tied after 9 innings are completed, the squads continue playing extra innings until one has more runs at the full completion of an inning. (Visiting teams cannot win a game by scoring one run a la sudden death in football; home teams always get to bat if they are behind).
- Officially, games could be completed after 8 and a half innings — if the home team takes the lead in the top half of the 9th inning — or even just 5 innings if bad weather forces a stoppage of play.
- The length of time between innings, when there is no official play as players warm up for the switch from batting to the field or vice versa, can vary greatly, from as little as 90 seconds to up to nearly 3 minutes in the post-season to accommodate television commercials.
- Pitching changes take time, and today’s style of play usually commands several per game, sometimes even more than two per inning.
- Innings where the batting team gets a lot of hits or bases on balls stretch out time-wise, as pitchers are free to take the time they need to try to hold runners close to their bases. (The 20-second clock experiment only applies when bases are empty).
- Rules can vary from league to league. For instance, minor league baseball uses a 20-second clock for pitching.
What about coaches’ visits to the pitching mound?
See above. Major League Baseball is tracking the number of these trips each game, to use to issue warnings or make future rule changes. Currently, there is a limit of two mound visits per inning per pitcher; the second visit must result in removal of that pitcher from the game. However, this does not address when teams switch pitchers more than once per inning.
It is important to note that an umpire has discretion to reject requests from coaches to visit the mound and talk with a pitcher — especially if that coach or his team has already abused the privilege. It’s just very rarely enforced especially at top levels of baseball.
Are there any reasons why a team may “stall,” or purposely slow down play to gain an advantage.
Yes. While it does not involve a clock or timer, teams may deliberately slow down if rainy or poor weather is approaching, if they are losing before 5 innings are complete. If an umpire stops a game before the end of the 5th, it is canceled and must be played again in full. Games that exceed the 5th but are tied are re-started later beginning at the point in which play was stopped.
This issue sometimes arises in lower-level, high school or youth leagues where there is no lighting. A team barely ahead might have players taking their time to pitch or step into the batter’s box, with hope the game will be called on account of darkness — or the opposing team must hit with waning sunlight.
How else will MLB shorten the length of innings and games?
MLB games broke a record in 2019 for the average length of games, as noted above. The 3-hour, 5-minute average was up 2 minutes from the previous season and 11 minutes from four years’ prior. The league added rules to require at least 3 batters per relief pitcher; rid the requirement to throw 4 balls to intentionally put a batter on first base; and other changes to try to speed play — and become more attractive to younger fans.