The Relationship Between Pace and Power

Sam Fuld was checking out his FanGraphs page the other day, and noticed that he’s a fairly fast-paced guy at the plate. He produced in 2011 the 36th-fastest pace between that season and the present one (minimum 300 plate appearances), and he’s the 20th-fastest paced batter this year. He also noticed something about the guys around him. “They’re all slap hitters!” he told me before a game against the Rangers.

He wondered if pace was correlated to power, and if this slower pace came through the mechanism of confidence. “I’m the star here,” he said, mimicking a step back out of the box and a shrug of the shoulders that’s a little foreign to the Athletics outfielder with 12 career home runs spread over nine years and 1500-plus plate appearances.

So, do the powerful take their time? If you look at it in a table, it looks obvious. Yes! David Ortiz (24.1 seconds average pace for his career) is the spirit animal of the slow and powerful.

Power and Pace at the Extremes
Pace Avg Pace ISO HR/FB
Top 10% 24.7 0.172 12.3%
Bottom 10% 20.1 0.121 6.7%
Pace = average number of seconds between pitches grouped by batter
ISO = isolated slugging percentage or slugging percentage minus batting average
HR/FB = home runs per fly ball
Sample = 516 qualified batters since 2007

If you delve deeper, it’s a little more complicated. Below is the graph of the relationship between pace and home runs per fly ball output for 500-plus qualified batters since 2007. While the output looks promising, and the relationship is significant (p is less than .0001), the relationship is not strong. A player’s pace at the plate explains about 10.1% of their power output. That’s weaker than the relationship of a player’s batting average on balls in play from one year to the next — and that’s generally considered a weak relationship.

But you can still see that there a lot of sluggers who take their time at the plate. And though this isn’t a causation thing — there’s nothing about being a slugger that makes you slower at the plate (unless it’s size, perhaps) — this general relationship might have a bit of meaning for baseball.

What if the pace-of-play rules affect sluggers more than other hitters? Ortiz has already famously bristled at his inability to step out of the box between pitches. What if the new rules have an unintended consequence of lessening their comfort at the plate and further suppressing offense in the future?

This is something we can’t really know until it happens, but it did come up when talking to Joey Votto about his approach at the plate. He said that sometimes he needs to call time to simplify things and clear his mind.

The Reds’ slugger takes two seconds longer, on average, between pitches than the lighter-hitting Fuld. What did he think of the pace of play rules? “I like the rules. I wish they’d enforce them more, actually. I see players step into the grass, pitchers take too much time. If we follow the rules, then I’m all for them.”

We’ll probably be fine. We will probably be able take back a second or two of thinking from our sluggers and it won’t matter. Since the relationship between pace and power isn’t the strongest, we’ll probably be fine. But maybe we should take a moment to think about it.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

Is hitter pace just the amount of time between pitches that they see?

Seems intuitive to me that it is the pitcher that is mostly in control of this metric. Maybe the pace correlates to power because pitchers tend to be more careful with power hitters. Maybe the pace correlates to power because power hitters tend to follow high OBP hitters and thus see pitchers that are concerned with runners.

Dave T
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

I agree. A couple other thoughts that may correlate with power:

By the eye test, it appears that pitchers often work slower the more pitches thrown to a single hitter. They also appear to work slower in hitters’ counts. These may correlate with power hitters, especially if the faster pace is to “slap hitters” who make a lot of contact and therefore tend to,put the ball in play before deep counts.