Earlier this offseason, as part of an info-taining post illustrating the influence a single batter can exert on game pace, Jeff discovered that Marwin Gonzalez was taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r between pitches this past season.
I followed up shortly after that with a piece in defense of pitchers, as I suspected much of the blame for the slowing pace of play could be assigned to batters.
While the hot stove is slowly warming this offseason, let us not forget that the biggest change we’ll observe in major-league stadiums next season could be the appearance of pitch clocks. Buster Olney reported last month that the introduction of a pitch clock is a distinct possibility.
In my piece from earlier his offseason, I noted that pace quickened in the PITCHf/x era only when specific rules were instituted and enforced in 2015 — in particular, a rule demanding that batters keep a foot in the box at all times unless certain exemptions had been met, like swinging at a pitch or being knocked down by one. But MLB and the MLBPA later agreed to do away with the threat of monetary penalty. After that, pace again began to slow.
While it’s difficult to assign credit for pace when searching leaderboards, we do know that last season featured 17 of the 25 slowest pace seasons by team, as documented in the following table.
And as far as individual culprits, there was one batter even slower than Gonzalez, if we lower the plate-appearance threshold to 100: Daniel Nava, who averaged 29.7 seconds between pitches.
In fact, Nava’s 2017 was the slowest batter pace on record in the PITCHf/x era.
To gain a feel and understanding of what exactly is holding up Nava, I took a look at one game against a league-average pace pitcher in 2017, Atlanta’s Luke Sims (24.1 seconds). From this one-game sample size, we begin to get a sense of why Nava was historically slow.
Nava is among those batters who are egregious violators of Rule 6.02 (d) which states:
“The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the batter’s time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding
(i) The batter swings at a pitch;
(ii) The batter is forced out of the batter’s box by a pitch;
(iii) A member of either team requests and is granted “Time”;
(iv) A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base;
(v) The batter feints a bunt;
(vi) A wild pitch or passed ball occurs;
(vii) The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving
the ball; or
(viii)The catcher leaves the catcher’s box to give defensive signals.”
On Aug. 28. 2017 in Philadelphia, Nava didn’t seem to be aware of or have much respect for Rule 6.02 (d).
I employed QuickTime Player’s time stamps to see exactly how long Nava was spending outside the box. In his first plate appearance, he departs the box after a called ball. It takes about 17 seconds for him to return to a hitting position in the box. Nava brushes the ground with a toe, leaves the box, appears to clear his sinuses, then returns.
In his second plate appearance, he departs the box again after a called strike, causing a 14-second interlude before he is again ready to hit.
The following pitch, a called ball, offers another pause in play, this one about 14 seconds. Sims is clearly ready to pitch and is waiting on Nava.
These are painfully slow, action-less GIFs. These durations of non-action are seemingly unnecessary. And Nava is hardly the only offender.
The following table contains the top-50 human rain delays of the PITCHf/x era (min: 100 plate appearances in a season). Notice that there are a number of repeat offenders, like Robinson Cano, Danny Espinosa, Hanley Ramirez. This is more evidence to suggest that hitters are largely to blame.
While ratings and revenues are not hurting, in order to keep the next generation of fans engaged and interested in the sport, it is probably prudent for MLB to be proactive in getting out in front of the pace issues. Indeed, MLB might not even need a clock, it just might need to keep its batters — like Nava and Gonzalez — in the box.
What baseball could really do to pick up the pace is simply enforce a rule that already exists.