A lot of our experience of baseball centers around being annoyed. Baseball has long, looping narratives, bits of fun, and good old thrills, but it is also full of small paper cuts. We’re annoyed our guy didn’t lay off one or that a call didn’t go our way. Ugh, really, ump!? We give our heads a shake and our shoulders a shrug. We sigh. Left out of October again. A summer day is too hot; the seat in front of us is occupied by a too-tall person. Our favorite team is unlucky, or underwhelming. Maybe they stink, but in the little ways. In the ways that bug you.
Baseball is constantly fretting that its games take too long. Some of that fretting is the result of knowing that most of us have to get to work in the morning, but mostly, the fretting comes from knowing that annoying stuff is just the worst. Annoying stuff makes us angry. Not in big, raging ways. But like when you bang your knee on the edge of your coffee table or spill soda on white denim. In the ways that wear you out and make you just a bit less likely to come back.
Part of baseball’s job is to safeguard us from these paper cuts, especially when we’re most vulnerable to them. January is a time to pine for baseball; our annoyance is directed at the game’s absence. We forget what it’s like to be cold and irked and in a rain delay. We forget Pedro Baez’s interminable delivery. We forget mound visits.
Last week, Jeff Passan reported the details of a memo outlining MLB’s proposed pace-of-play rule changes for the 2018 season. They come with a pitch clock and requirements that catchers and infielders and coaches more or less stay put:
The restrictions on mound visits are particularly acute. Any time a coach, manager or player visits a pitcher on the mound, or a pitcher leaves the mound to confer with a player, it counts as a visit. Upon the second visit to the pitcher in the same inning, he must exit the game. Under the proposal, each team would have received six so-called “no-change” visits that would have prevented the pitcher from leaving the game.
No one likes mound visits, but that’s a pretty drastic change. It strives to eliminate an awful lot of perceived paper cuts. I was moved to think about how many. As mound visits aren’t tracked, I took a small, imprecise sample. I decided to rewatch Game 7 of the World Series. Specifically, I watched the half-innings when the Astros were pitching, because Brian McCann loves a good mound visit.
I timed each visit McCann made, from the moment he crossed home plate to confer with his pitcher to when he got back behind the dish. Admittedly, there is a bit of squishiness in these timings. I relied on the Fox broadcast angles, which unsurprisingly don’t always emphasize dead time. A few of these might have lasted a second or two longer; he may have hustled a bit more for others. It’s not exact, but then, it’s only supposed to give us a good idea. By my count, here are the details of McCann’s mound visits.
|Inning||Score||Pitcher||Batter||Count||Visit Duration (Sec.)|
Twelve! He made 12 visits! For 271 seconds! That’s over four-and-a-half minutes! Maybe you say, “This is the World Series. You want to be careful; there’s a lot at stake.” Maybe you say, “This is Brian McCann. He’s an exception.” But that’s the thing: we all care about this game. This isn’t some sad Tuesday night affair between the Reds and Padres. We’re all watching this sucker. You want the World Series to be thrilling. You don’t want to be annoyed. But there you were, being annoyed. Let’s be annoyed together and take a look at a few of these, shall we?
Matchup: Lance McCullers facing Yasiel Puig
Visit Duration: 29 seconds
Lance McCullers didn’t have his best stuff. McCann paid him a visit during Justin Turner’s plate appearance; it took 14 seconds. McCullers plunked Turner. He’d already given up a leadoff double to Chris Taylor. He was all over the place.
We tend to think about mound visits as the moment in which a plan is made or rest is granted, but I think they’re just as likely to be about a catcher worrying that a pitcher will spiral, that his guy will suddenly become incapable of throwing strikes, that he’ll hit a few more guys — that he might, depending on the situation, never be quite right again.
McCullers probably would have been fine. He’s young and talented, and he was up by two runs. He probably would have been fine. But what if he hadn’t been? What if this brief pause was a rescue mission? These are the times when we’re most sympathetic to the mound visit. We all think we’re healthy until the moment the doctor tells us we aren’t.
Matchup: Brad Peacock facing Clayton Kershaw
Visit Duration: 22 seconds
Clayton Kershaw had a wRC+ of 25 in 2017. He has a career wRC+ of 2. T-w-o. Clocking this at 22 seconds is a bit unfair. Kershaw, after all, was walking up to the plate for part of it. This visit didn’t delay the game 22 seconds much. It maybe delayed the game 10 seconds much. Maybe we count this as a half-visit.
But also, it’s Clayton Kershaw. He’s a pitcher. There were two outs. There was nobody on. The Astros were up by five. He struck out! This was the moment you felt it getting out of hand. What could McCann possibly have said other than, “Hey bud, don’t embarrass yourself, and throw it probably literally anywhere.”
Matchup: Chris Devenski facing Yasiel Puig
Visit Duration: 25 seconds
I mean, honestly. Devenski had thrown five pitches. He’d already had a mound visit this inning! He inspired this face!
They had so much time to talk about it! This is just bad business continuity planning; it’s precisely the sort of thing the proposed rule changes are designed to prevent. Cheers of “Let’s go Pu-ig (clap clap, clap clap clap)” immediately transitioned to boos from the home crowd. “Five-run game and Devenski calls out McCann,” Joe Buck tells us. McCann goes out, says hey, then briefly returns to the mound. He pulled us out of the game. Who knows where we are now.
“McCann left and comes back. Why don’t we give you a quick word from Wendy’s?” With a runner on third, the stakes aren’t exactly low, but come on. Come on! There are two outs. You just came in, Chris. The only redeemable part of this exchange is when you are able to briefly convince yourself that Chris Devenski is staring out at these snacks. “Oh boy, tenders!”
Matchup: Charlie Morton facing Austin Barnes
Visit Duration: 15 seconds
It’s a little unfair, this habit we have of looking at faces. We assume we know what they mean. Dave Roberts probably doesn’t intend to be looking at the camera; he’s just watching the game. He is not Jim Halpert. He isn’t making an intentional “you gotta be kidding me” face.
And even if he were, perhaps it wasn’t for long. We feel all sorts of things for an instant, only to forget we ever did. Who knows if Roberts was irritated when McCann trudged out to the mound. Perhaps he was Annoyed for one second only to then be Concerned and then Curious. Maybe a stray memory of Game 5 snuck in there. That Annoyed second could have been about something else entirely.
But that was the second the camera saw. There he is, looking incredulous, reminding us that, really, he ought to be incredulous. That we ought to be incredulous, too. That this whole thing McCann has been doing is ridiculous. Baseball’s biggest problem might be that it is televised because whenever the apple cart is upset, we’re all right there to see the faces and assume we know what they mean.
It is perhaps important to note, as we think about how long paper cuts continue to sting, that our experience on TV is considerably better than it is in the ballpark. For instance, after Austin Barnes popped out and Andre Ethier drove in a run, Chris Taylor struck out. At home, we saw Morton Max Effort:
And Chris Taylor Screams, Gahhh So Mad:
That’s dramatic! We know that pitching is great, but it is clearly so bad for you. The broadcast says, “Let’s look at it in slo-mo and see.” We know this game makes guys feel things. The broadcast says, “Yes, just look at Chris Taylor’s face.” You’re engaged with this endeavor.
But as you watch this action unfold, you also begin hear boos. Why? Because during the replay of Morton throwing a pitch and Chris Taylor learning about disappointment, we hear, “McCann out to talk yet again.”
The ballpark crowd has no distraction. They don’t see Chris Taylor scream. At some point, no matter the stakes, no matter the score, fans just want folks to get on with it. After all, the Astros had the help of a whole ‘nother guy giving Charlie Morton signs behind home plate.
All that, and L.A. traffic is notoriously terrible. At some point you’re only serving to guarantee that a bunch of small children get home after midnight.
It isn’t all mound visits, of course. Look at this fussbudget. Logan Forsythe takes so long adjusting and fixing and spitting that you can practically see Larry King, there over Forsythe’s back shoulder, aging in real time.
His fussing gives us time to meet Kid Sucking on a Rally Towel. (Sorry, Kid.)
And Concerned Older Woman in a Hat.
And Crew of Dudes in Itchy Fake Beards and Face Paint They Surely Now Regret Who Are Surrounded by Strangers and Possibly the Star of a Teen Drama Down There at the Bottom?
It’s nice to meet new friends, but Forsythe could have spared us this. That rally-towel kid certainly has regrets. It isn’t just pitchers and catchers. There are little bits of annoyance everywhere. That’s baseball.
I have sympathy for the players. Some raised concerns about teams using technology to spy and gain an advantage. There is the incontrovertibly icky part of the league being able to unilaterally enact rule changes; in a time when the players seem to have an increasingly small amount of say, one is tempted to endure annoyance if only to reinforce the players’ ability to yell no. But it’s a good rule.
Maybe we shave off a couple of seconds for inexact measurement. Maybe we don’t mind a couple. Maybe a few are more like half-visits, times McCann lingered overlong delivering the ball. I dunno, maybe his shoulder hurt and he didn’t feel like throwing it. It wasn’t the only way things were slowed down. And it was only one game. But it was an annoying one. It was one we booed.
In the biggest game of the year, Brian McCann spent over four minutes saying hey. He exacted a series of paper cuts. He would probably defend the choice on the grounds that one has to be exacting in situations like this, that sometimes pitchers have poor command and you have runners on. You need a plan, and you don’t want to just tell everybody. It’s to the players’ benefit.
But a lot of things are to the players’ benefit. There are times when it would be to the batter’s benefit, however briefly, to carry his bat to first base and swing it at the first baseman. We don’t let him do, though. Sometimes the rules are for us. Sometimes we make them so that we still want to watch baseball.
There are plenty of things that annoy us. Who wouldn’t appreciate a few fewer paper cuts?
Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs, the host of FanGraphs Audio, and the co-co-host of Effectively Wild. Her work has appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.