How faster games are improving players' lives -- off the field

May 16th, 2023
(Illustration by Benjamin Marra for

When her dad’s baseball team wins a home game, it’s Kyler Woodruff’s turn to play.

Kyler is the 2-year-old daughter of Brewers pitcher Brandon Woodruff, and she’s become a regular in the home clubhouse after victories, shooting hoops on the clubhouse’s Pop-A-Shot-style arcade basketball game with her “uncles” -- Willy Adames and Freddy Peralta.

“She walks in, picks up a basketball, and Willy dribbled with her,” Woodruff said. “That’s all it took, one time. Now all she wants to do at the game is throw the ball with Willy. … I get texts from my wife before the game now, like, ‘Y’all better win, Kyler wants to come in the clubhouse.’”

Prior to the pitch timer, visits from kids like Kyler were few and far between. But a new era of quicker conclusions has put the “family” in American Family Field, with Brew Crew kin regularly joining in on the postgame party.

“They never got to do that before with the long games, especially if it was a 7:10 game,” Woodruff said. “It was 10 or 10:30, easy, when those games were done.”

Across the league, players are experiencing the benefits of brisker ballgames, thanks to the pitch timer, which has cut down on dead time and returned the sport to its old rhythms. The average pace of a nine-inning game is 26 minutes shorter than the full-season average in 2022 – and that extra time really adds up over the course of 162 games.

The grind of the game and the time of the game will always make professional baseball an unusual job with an unusual schedule. But turning the 3 1/2-hour game from a regular part of the gig to an endangered species (there have been only three such games all season, one of which was Monday's Twins-Dodgers tilt that went 12 innings … after 361 last year) gives players and coaches a bit more of a break from that grind.

“You feel like a person who works in baseball now,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, “and not just a baseball creature who occasionally steps foot in their home.”

Beyond the obvious reduction in average game time, what the timer has done is reduce the variance in game times. Baseball remains unique among the major professional sports in that its endings are not dictated by a clock, but the between-pitches timer has made the time one can expect to spend watching, attending or playing a Major League game much more predictable.

“I actually get to make dinner plans now,” Nationals reliever Carl Edwards Jr. said. “We were in Colorado, and me and four other players were able to go have dinner [at a steakhouse] that would have been closed. I think the best thing about it is we can actually have family dinners – team family and then if your family is in town, too.”

Added Reds third baseman Spencer Steer: “It’s been nice, when I have family in town, to be able to see them after games, as opposed to getting out of here at 11 or 11:30 and having no shot to see them.”

Mets outfielder Mark Canha told ESPN his favorite benefit of the pitch timer is that he doesn’t have to race back to the garage near his apartment before it closes at midnight.

While earlier postgame dinners, visits from kids in the clubhouse and extra entertainment time (“I have more time at night, so I play more PlayStation and I see more movies,” Nats second baseman Luis García said) are all nice improvements to the work/life balance, the pitch timer also has the potential to improve player health.

Some players are heeding the advice of sleep scientists and taking advantage of the more expedited schedule to get to bed at a more consistent time than they once did.

“Before, you’d go home and decompress and, all of a sudden, it’s 1 or 2 a.m.,” White Sox reliever Jimmy Lambert said. “[So] it’s more about being able to decompress and get to bed at a reasonable hour.”

Proper rest is vital to an athlete’s recovery, especially in a sport played virtually every single day. And with games ending earlier, players have been able to dedicate more time to other aspects of their recovery plan.

“This game is so rotational, and there are a lot of demands, whether it’s running or throwing or hitting,” Twins outfielder Trevor Larnach said. “You’re doing all these different movements, and, if you do too many of one, your body can be aligned a certain way after a game. So you kind of want to get it straightened out before you go to sleep. A lot of it, for me, is putting my hips and pelvis back into place. If you’re tired or sore in any area, you have time to tackle that.”

For relievers, who tend to start mentally and physically preparing for potential entry into a game around the fourth or fifth inning, quicker innings can have a mental benefit, as Brewers lefty Hoby Milner explained.

“The amount of ‘anxious time’ in the bullpen is cut way down,” Milner said. “It’s less stress on the bullpen, really. It’s less time under stress. You’re in a better state through the season, and it will probably pay off later on.”

Should the current reduction in average game times hold, that’s more than 60 fewer hours that position players are spending on the field in a given season.

“It’s going to add two more years to my career,” veteran Royals catcher Salvador Perez said, only half-joking.

That’s a longer-term topic worth keeping in mind.

But for now, what we know for sure is that the pitch timer has dramatically reduced the amount of time it takes to play an MLB game and, therefore, dramatically expedited the work days of those who play it.

“You get a better version of every guy when they walk in the door,” Baldelli said. “I mean, a 2 1/2-hour game is just a different experience. You walk away feeling very differently than playing a 3 1/2-hour game. And I think everyone would feel different about their job -- especially if it’s [physically taxing] -- if you could get the same amount of work done in less time. You’re able to focus better, and you feel better. I’ve just been a big fan of it.”

Of course, Kyler Woodruff might be the biggest fan of all.

“I can take her in the back room to get a piece of candy,” her dad said. “It makes me smile, and it makes everybody else smile when you see the kids coming in. That’s my favorite part of these quicker games.”