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April 16, 2014

Overthinking It

Does Baseball Have a Pace Problem?

by Ben Lindbergh


On June 13, 2012, in a close but otherwise unmemorable game at Great American Ball Park between the Reds and Indians, Joey Votto and Derek Lowe reminded us what baseball is missing:

That’s Votto’s third-inning plate appearance, a six-pitch walk. The PA was notable not because of the outcome—Votto led the National League in walks that season, despite playing in only 111 games, so a free pass was predictable—but because of how little time it took and the way Votto approached each offering. The slugger barely adjusted his stance or his position in the batter’s box from pitch to pitch, moving his feet only when Lowe came inside on 2-2. He showed no compulsion to do a lap around the plate, no need to adjust his batting gloves. And somehow, he survived.

Lowe was one of the game’s quickest workers in 2012. We know that not just from watching him, but by virtue of PITCHf/x, which began to tag each pitch with a timestamp in 2010. By comparing each pitch’s timestamp to the previous one—and using only consecutive pitches, so that the time between isn’t counted if a pick-off throw breaks up the action—we can determine the time it took to deliver. A stopwatch would serve the same purpose for a single pitch or plate appearance, but a database allows us to dig deeper, calculating the average pace for any pitcher or hitter in a given season, as well as for the league as a whole.

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Related Content:  Pace,  Speed

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richie

At least regarding hitters, I think you need to control for men on/not on base. For instance, how much of Philips' sluggishness is due to Votto so often being on ahead of him?

Apr 16, 2014 08:15 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Yes, you'd need to try to control for other factors if you wanted to completely isolate the player's context-neutral slowness.

Apr 16, 2014 08:29 AM
 
apbadogs

The thing that gets me about pace of play is how blatantly the rule book is ignored regarding the strike zone and each ump making up his own zone. How is this acceptable and just waved away like it's nothing??

Apr 16, 2014 08:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

The umpire zones have become much more accurate and closely aligned since the pre-QuesTec, pre-PITCHf/x era. What connection do you see between umpire zones and the pace of play?

Apr 16, 2014 08:33 AM
 
gjhardy

There is one simple solution to the pace of play issue: Call the rulebook strike zone, specifically the top half of it:
Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone
The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.
The top of the strike zone is actually above the hitters belt by quite a bit. When is the last time a pitch above the belt was called a strike? This ONE change would resolve the pace of play issue…and it's already a rule!

Apr 17, 2014 08:45 AM
rating: 2
 
evo34

Would be nice to see umpire strike zone tendency stats somewhere on BP. Brooksbaseball used to have very revealing tables, but they have since disappeared.

Apr 20, 2014 23:42 PM
rating: 0
 
bhalpern

Comparing the slowest overall pitchers - all relievers - to the fastest - all starters - doesn't give much insight into each list. Can you add the fastest relievers and the slowest starters? And for starters, is overall game time per start available? If so perhaps the correlation between starting pitcher pace and length of game can be analyzed.

Apr 16, 2014 09:01 AM
rating: 0
 
bhalpern

And thanks for bringing up this topic. I can't stand watching games with slow pitchers/hitters. Especially after a foul ball some pitchers take forever to rub up the new ball and get back on the mound, which I think is a big cause of the ever increasing time between pitches in extended at bats.

Regardless if it reduces the overall game time by a significant amount, picking up the running pace of play would go a long way towards addressing the generalized perception of baseball as boring.

Apr 16, 2014 09:05 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Added slowest starters and fastest relievers. Wonder if catcher pace is a thing...

Apr 16, 2014 09:28 AM
 
bhalpern

Thanks Ben. Maybe catchers, managers, or pitching coaches. Not sure if this is what you noticed, but I see this group on the slowest lists: Peralta, Balfour, Benoit, Howell, Jackson, Hellickson, Price, Bedard.

Apr 16, 2014 13:14 PM
rating: 1
 
newsense

Another consideration may be more foul balls since they take time for the ball to be recovered or go out of play and there is usually a new baseball after a foul that may require rubbing.

Apr 16, 2014 09:05 AM
rating: 1
 
flyingdutchman

Love this article.

Here's another one: Catchers should not be allowed to constantly visit the mound. It is happening more and more often on 2-2 and 3-2 counts, no one seems to care, and I don't understand that. Such a large percentage of longish at-bats are now interrupted by catcher visits, presumably to discuss the next pitch or pitch sequence in ways that signals just aren't sophisticated enough to telegraph, and it's odd to me that no one ever addresses it. They are holding up the game, and it's boring. Get to your position and play baseball.

We all know people who say they don't like baseball because "it's boring". They can't enjoy the tension between pitches, the general pace of the game, all the other cool little things about it, and if you're like me you mostly just shrug and figure they're missing out. If you look at the game from their point of view, however, it's asking a lot of them to deal with all the extra stepping out of the box, wandering around the mound, pointless catcher visits and pitching changes that today's fan has to deal with.

I love watching baseball, and if I don't want to watch Brian McCann amble out to the pitcher so that he can put his mitt in front of his face and have a ponderous exchange that amounts to "throw the change but keep it down", you can bet that a kid who grew up with high-speed internet and Michael Bay movies doesn't want to see it either. Anyway, maybe I'm getting old.

Apr 16, 2014 10:08 AM
rating: 2
 
bhalpern

Get off my perfectly manicured and intricately decorated lawn. ;-)

Apr 16, 2014 13:17 PM
rating: 1
 
flyingdutchman

Well...I work hard to keep it nice, okay?!

Apr 17, 2014 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
kcboomer

Tell the batter to stay in the batter's box and to be ready within 5 seconds of the last pitch (barring injury). Tell pitchers to get in gear. Do not permit throws to bases when the runner is within ten feet of it.

I was at a Royals game with Paul Bird and Mark Buerhle pitching that had a final score of 5-3 on a walk off homer in the bottom of the ninth. Time elapsed: 2 hours 5 minutes. The key was the pitchers were ready to pitch as soon as they got the ball back and they were throwing strikes.

Apr 16, 2014 10:37 AM
rating: 3
 
Ogremace

How do you monitor the throw-over rule? You can't have the distance being measured every pitch, and presumably if there's a penalty there's something at stake in getting the rule correct. Anyway, throws over and baserunning are part of the game, unlike wandering around the mound, adjusting batting gloves etc. I don't think they fall under the purview of this article even if you find them to be "boring". At least something can happen on a throw over.

Apr 16, 2014 15:05 PM
rating: 1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

I think if you want to limit the throw over the most effective way to do that is to count it as a ball. Maybe starting with the second pickoff attempt per batter (first one is free). Then it is more like a form of pitch out and pitchers would be much more judicious about it.

However then I think we'd get even more step off the rubber type issues too, so it is a tricky problem.

Apr 17, 2014 00:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Dodger300

Watch out for the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Your sypuggested change would mean not only more steals, but more walks. Both of which would slow the pace of the game even more.

Plus, whatever unknown consequences the rule change would also bring about.

I would prefer not to find out.

Apr 20, 2014 23:09 PM
rating: 0
 
sandyk

Is there any way to know how the times for current batters compare to some notorious time-wasters such as Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Hargrove?

Apr 16, 2014 14:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Johnston

End all batter timeouts except for injury. Put a large, visible timer on the pitcher and if he doesn't throw the ball within 30 seconds then it's a balk.

Problem solved.

Apr 16, 2014 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
evo34

Exactly. A batter should never be able to delay the game, nor should a pitcher be able to step off. Just as unlimited timeouts would ruin basketball and football, baseball has been ruined to a large number of would-be viewers. I follow baseball because I find aspects of the sport intriguing; I rarely watch games because I find them so painful to sit through.

Apr 20, 2014 23:48 PM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

I would hate hate hate it if a baseball game ended in 2:05. That would be awful. The 7 o'clock games would be over by 9:10, then 50 minutes until the 10's start and those are over by midnight. I'm barely finished kids bedtimes by 9 most nights, I'd miss every game and then I would have to watch Mitch freaking Williams for an hour before the Best Coast games start.

This whole thing seems like a non-issue to me. The games run long because of commercial breaks which the TV channels want because it makes money because there are so many people watching which means that teams make more money from TV contracts which means players make more money which means more, better athletes play baseball which means MIKE TROUT.

Apr 16, 2014 17:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Coconut SuperCrab

I don't personally care about the length and pace of the game. I like it as much as you, believe me. But declining interest in baseball relative to other sports actually hurts everything you named above, not the other way around. Everyone else on the thread and the author of this article think pace is related to the declining interest relative to other sports. It's a serious problem and we need to be trying to solve it before baseball becomes even less relevant.

Apr 17, 2014 12:26 PM
rating: 3
 
sykojohnny
(225)

The number one reason that people do not like baseball is because it is "too slow" and "nothing happens". While I disagree with that and attribute it to the fact that these folks don't know the game, your study shows room for a tightening up on the players who do waste a lot of time. But given the complaint of slowness, why do we have a replay system that slows the game down even further. The time taken for the replay should include the time that the manager uses to walk out to the umpires and wait until his team gets a look at the replays in the dugout, not just the time after the manager uses his one decision to challenge. Also, the replay has eliminated what is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game i.e. the manager losing his f***ing mind and putting his face in the umpires face , screaming and hollering, throwing dirt on the umpire's shoes,throwing rosin bag grenades and just naturally raising hell. The home town fans love their manager "standing up" for their team, and cheer even more when the manager gets ejected. What a loss of fun and laughs.Dumb move.

Apr 17, 2014 07:14 AM
rating: -2
 
evo34

If you enjoy intentional over-reaction, there is always WWE.. The only way for replay to work in baseball is to ban managers from leaving the dugout. Allowing both challenging and arguing in an incredible waste of time from the fan's perspective.

Apr 20, 2014 23:52 PM
rating: 0
 
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