Chatter has been picking up that Major League Baseball will introduce a pitch clock in 2018. It’s felt like an inevitable development for some time, with the clock having been in place in the upper minors for the last few years. Reactions have been mixed, because reactions are always mixed, but the pitch clock is coming, and it’s probably going to be fine. We’ll get used to it, everyone will get used to it, and the game will remain by and large the same.
I made a point about the pitch clock last week. According to early reports, the proposed clock would only be used when the bases are empty, and I pointed out that the game only really slows down after somebody reaches. When there’s a runner on base, pitchers have more to worry about, so it makes sense that they’d work slower. But I don’t want to make this all about pitchers. We tend to think of pitchers as being responsible for dictating the pace. They are, after all, the guys holding the baseballs. But in any at-bat, there are two parties involved. As Buster Olney wrote in his report, no batter in the National League averaged more time between pitches than Odubel Herrera. And no batter in either league averaged more time between pitches than Marwin Gonzalez.
On average last year, overall, there were 24.2 seconds between pitches. For Gonzalez, that average was 29.5. That was up from the previous year’s 27.2, and up from his career low of 24.4. Pitching to Gonzalez was most recently 22% slower than pitching to a league-average hitter. Just as a pitch clock will make certain pitchers hurry up, it would have the same effect on certain hitters. At least, given proper enforcement.
I imagine we can mostly agree that’s a good thing. There’s baseball’s normal, familiar pace, and there are the players who push it too far. Wasted seconds benefit no one, and there’s no need for there to be just two pitches every minute. Players will need to maintain a good tempo. What effect this all ultimately has, we’ll have to see. Yet there’s one question we can answer right now: What in the heck is Marwin Gonzalez even doing?
How does Gonzalez take so much time? I went to the video. I didn’t go hunting for any pitch in particular. I just wound up at a game between the Astros and the Phillies. In the video below, you see Gonzalez standing in — or, very nearly standing in — against Aaron Nola. Nola works a little slower than the average pitcher, but he’s not one of those extreme slowpokes. Gonzalez is one of those extreme slowpokes. According to the pitch-tracker data, there were 29 seconds between these consecutive pitches.
There’s no one on base. It’s early in the count. While Nola is just about finished for the day, you see two outs, and a five-run Phillies lead. Very low pressure. No foul ball. No off-balance swing attempt. No pitch in the dirt. No time-out, or re-cycle of the pitch signs. Somehow, 29 seconds, with the camera mostly staying on Gonzalez. Let’s review how Gonzalez passed the time.
Gonzalez took the strike call. He showed bunt all the way, but he never really committed to it. It was mostly an excuse for him to watch the pitch closely. Maybe he thought he should’ve bunted after all. Maybe he didn’t like the strike call from the umpire. Gonzalez stood straight up in the box, momentarily. It’s good to see hitters stay in the box. Makes you think they’re going to work quickly. Great, good pitch, show me another! That’s what someone might’ve thought. That someone would be someone insufficiently familiar with Marwin Gonzalez.
Rearranging dirt. Dirt doesn’t just end up where it ends up by accident. Sometimes it gets rearranged.
One thing I wish didn’t happen is that the camera cut away to another feed. Gonzalez remained on the screen, but we don’t get to see the same angle. I can’t prove to you that Gonzalez stepped out of the box. But, Gonzalez stepped out of the box. Way out, completely out, with both of his feet and his whole entire body. In the screenshot above, you see Gonzalez leaving the box. In the video, he takes another several steps. Gonzalez just went for a walk. This is one of his habits.
If you believe that would be against the rules, you would be correct!
The rules just aren’t enforced. They used to be, for a short time, when first implemented, but, well, umpires already have enough to worry about, and they don’t want to make any enemies. What’s an extra second here or there? They’re just seconds, right? They’re all just seconds. Every additional 10 minutes is just a collection of seconds. No one cares about the rules anymore, so Marwin Gonzalez takes a walk between pitches. He doesn’t go all the way to the grass, like some players used to do, but Gonzalez just leaves the plate. He rearranges the dirt and walks away from it, because, isn’t life amazing? He gets to spend his life playing major-league baseball. Wow!
Gotta screw the bat barrel and handle together. They aren’t actually two separate parts, haphazardly fastened, but, just in case, gotta screw ’em together. Can never be too safe.
Gonzalez: I wonder how far back my finger can bend
Gonzalez: Pretty far!
Gonzalez: I wonder if that’s too far
Gonzalez: I wonder if I need a doctor
Sometimes you wonder what it would be like to carry a bindle. No one carries bindles anymore, but maybe they could. You just hold it like so.
Here we have Gonzalez digging in. He has approached the plate, at last, once more. Now, in truth, digging in is just another form of rearranging dirt, but there’s a critical difference between this kind of rearranging dirt and the earlier rearranging dirt. Earlier, Gonzalez rearranged dirt where nobody stands. Here he’s digging exactly where he stands. A hitter needs to be careful, because if you dig in too much, you end up in China.
Gonzalez makes sure the top of his body is still there.
Gonzalez makes sure the top of his bat is still there.
Here we have Gonzalez giving the plate a little tap. That’s the universal sign for “okay, I’m ready to resume doing this now.” It’s Gonzalez letting the pitcher know he can get back to doing his job. So, was the next pitch just around the corner? The broadcast declared with confidence that, no, so here’s a commercial.
We don’t and can’t know what Gonzalez did while this ad flashed briefly on the screen, but if I had to guess, he probably rearranged some dirt.
Gonzalez stood in with legs bent. It’s a comfortable, relaxed-looking pose. Perhaps the secret to Gonzalez’s 2017 breakout was that he more often got to bat with a clear head. This could be because, between every pitch, he scheduled for himself a therapy micro-appointment. Nola stood staring on the mound, one new loose hair lying upon his shoulder.
So concludes our Marwin Gonzalez walk-through. He didn’t take so many seconds *every* time. Sometimes he would speed up, because the pitcher would be right there on the rubber, waiting. A fast pitcher speeds up the hitter, just as a slow pitcher can have the opposite effect. But it’s not like we’re dealing with a small sample. Gonzalez saw a whole lot of pitches, and a lot of time passed between them. No batter had a slower pace in the major leagues. Sometimes Gonzalez did himself no favors by grabbing a bat that didn’t have any pine tar on it.
A delay like that — that’s an exception. That’s just an innocent brain fart. There’s a lot for a player to keep track of. But Gonzalez’s overall pace was no accident. Sure, he made himself a tough hitter. And sure, because he was on the Astros, he batted pretty often in stressful situations. Nevertheless, out of every regular in the game, Marwin Gonzalez batted with the slowest pace. Every batter takes a step away, but not every batter takes another eight or nine. Gonzalez shows that hitters, too, will be affected by a pitch clock. That is, if anyone pays attention to it. Jury’s out on that one.
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.