You’ve already read about the stuff being tried in an effort to improve baseball’s pace of play. You’ve already read so much of it you’re probably already tired of reading it. Sorry. Pace of play is a relatively boring subject, when compared to everything that happens in between the various delays and stoppages (i.e. baseball). But, hey, here’s something: last year, the median game duration was 3:07. So far this year, 2:58. Maybe that means something. Maybe all that means is it’s been just a few days. Don’t know, but, forget the macro. This is about the micro.
Among the new rules implemented: batters must keep one foot in the box. A candid Bud Selig:
“A guy gets in the batter’s box, ball one, and now he’s adjusting all this crap he has on,” Selig said. “And I’m thinking to myself watching the game, ‘What is he adjusting? He hasn’t swung the bat.’ ”
Bud Selig is very old, but that’s something I myself would’ve said, with the same terminology. Baseball has been littered with hitters who have to meditate between every pitch, and perhaps the worst offender has been Troy Tulowitzki. Back in 2008, Tulowitzki averaged 20.5 seconds between pitches. That subsequently rose every year, to last season’s 27.9. Tulo, like other hitters, would explain it as a habit. Part superstition, part taking a breather, part thinking things through. But Tulo wasn’t always like this. He grew into it. When he worked faster, he was an excellent player. He’s always been an excellent player, but his is a frustrating trend.
So how has he been changed? How has Tulowitzki responded to a new rule that addresses one of his quirks? We’ve got games, now. Games mean data.
First, unfortunately, we have to review. What did Tulowitzki do a season ago? I’ve chosen a representative between-pitch sequence.
There he goes. Tulowitzki did not just strike out. But he did take a pitch, and then he went for a walk. You notice this isn’t a normal standing position. That’s because he hasn’t stopped. He took a few more steps, after the camera switched to a close-up.
Gotta tighten those gloves. They sure got loose the pitch before, while Tulowitzki stood there doing nothing. Maybe they get tighter every time. Maybe, by the tenth pitch of a long at-bat, Tulowitzki’s batting gloves are effectively tourniquets.
Tulowitzki: am I still holding a bat?
Tulo takes a practice swing, to make sure his bat still swings.
Digging in. This is all just the batter equivalent of an office worker keeping an Excel tab open to make it look like he’s busy if the boss comes around. What Tulowitzki is actually doing is nothing. At least, nothing, outside of his head. But he can’t very well just stand there motionless and think, so he has to make his body look busy in the meantime.
Tulowitzki touches home plate, signaling to the pitcher, “put pitches here, I am ready to hit them.” Too bad, here, the pitcher wasn’t looking. Tulo should probably call a time-out.
So that’s last year’s Tulowitzki, against Matt Garza in Milwaukee. Now let’s check on this year’s Tulowitzki, again in Milwaukee. This year, there’s a new rule! And, look at that: Tulowitzki observes it. Look at this obedient son of a bitch.
That’s a foot, and that’s a batter’s box, and that’s a right foot standing technically not outside of the batter’s box. Though Tulowitzki isn’t standing completely still, he’s just about to transfer weight to the other foot; he takes no more steps back. Tulo got the message. No dilly-dallying anymore for Troy Tulowitzki, except for all the subsequent dillies and dallies.
Gotta tighten them tourniquets. Do you know how often loose batting gloves come flying off during a swing? The answer might surprise you. Unless you think the answer is, never, that never happens. Then the answer won’t surprise you.
That is a bat.
Tulo digs in. You can’t tell that’s what he’s doing, but I could tell that’s what he was doing. That dirt gets really messed up, what with people standing straight up on it every 30 seconds.
Tap tap. Tulo’s ready. I don’t know if it’s possible to get exhausted from waiting, but this might be a key to Tulowitzki’s outstanding and consistent productivity.
According to the rule, Tulowitzki isn’t violating anything. He kept a foot in the box, which is basically it. But that didn’t stop him from going through his full and familiar routine. The same routine that’s become increasingly bloated over time, but, new habits still count as habits. It’s a lot easier to add than eliminate. So the rule really doesn’t address this sort of behavior. Maybe you’ll shave off a second or two, but frequently, players would go through their idiosyncrasies while they wandered away from the box. Now they’ll just do them in the box. The rule essentially forces catchers and umpires to watch batters adjust their equipment. They used to do it more politely on the side.
Hitters who keep one foot in the box but maintain lengthy routines of adjusting batting gloves and other pre-pitch rituals will not be considered to be in violation of the new rules, even though it runs contrary to the spirit of them. Anthopoulos said MLB officials used Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista as an example of a player who “is able to adjust his gloves, adjust his helmet, do all those things and keep one foot in the box.”
To make matters worse(?), there are exceptions. A batter has to keep a foot in the box unless he, say, swings and hits a foul. Or just swings, period. Or if there’s another little delay. Then hitters can walk away as long as they remain on the dirt. Tulowitzki has memorized the new rule, and he’s also memorized all the fine print.
So that’s still going to happen. Which means this is still going to happen:
That isn’t Matt Garza waiting for a sign. That’s Matt Garza waiting for Troy Tulowitzki, so that he can then wait for a sign. Making .gifs of this stuff can be difficult — oftentimes, the events in question last longer than your ordinary .gif. I could’ve made the one above longer, but you know what it looks like when a pitcher is standing there doing nothing.
Maybe Tulowitzki will make some kind of effort to speed things up! Check this out. He forgot something:
No glove adjustment. And now that I notice, no half-swing, either. Here, there were 16 seconds between pitches. Those are the fastest two pitches to Tulowitzki yet this year. On the other hand:
Very next pitch. Maybe part of Tulowitzki’s routine is that he doesn’t do his full routine after the first pitch he sees in a game? That wouldn’t make any sense, but none of this really makes any sense. If nothing makes sense, everything could conceivably make sense, so, I propose the hypothesis.
And just in case you were wondering, Tulo’s routine is more or less unaware of context. It’s independent of game situation, which explains the 30-second .gif you’re about to watch all the way through for some reason:
Having trouble seeing that? Then just know this: it was the fifth inning, and the score was 10-0 Rockies, which says that the Rockies had ten runs, and the Brewers had ten fewer runs. The leverage index of this at-bat was 0.02. It was almost as meaningless as an at-bat can get, but every at-bat means something to Troy Tulowitzki. And maybe that’s admirable. And to be honest, some of this had to do with the slow pace of Michael Blazek as well. But just don’t expect Tulo to speed things up even when a game is out of hand. That’s not Tulowitzki. Never will be.
Put it all together and you have this: Troy Tulowitzki has observed the new rule. When he needs to, he keeps that foot in the box, so as not to be in violation. This despite there not yet being any real discipline for offenders. And, last year, Tulowitzki’s between-pitch pace averaged 27.9 seconds. In the early going this year, he’s averaged 28.4 seconds. There has been some element of concern that changing the rules could disrupt hitter timing. Doesn’t seem like the kind of thing anyone will have to worry about. For Troy Tulowitzki, the game hasn’t changed. He’ll just look a tiny bit worse to his pedometer.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.