Who’s Slowing Down the Game?

Last week, I examined whether baseball’s pace changes were having an effect through the first quarter of the major-league season. The results of that investigation? That pace measures are melting some time from the game.

By limiting mound visits, by reducing time between innings — with some teams even employing bullpen carts — the average time of game has been reduced by five minutes. Starting pitchers have cut their average time between pitches by half a second to 23.1 seconds this year. The average time between pitches for a reliever is also down half a second to 23.8.

The changes are having an effect, albeit modest. Perhaps the change will be enough to reduce MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s desire to implement a pitch clock, a device which he was close to unilaterally adding to the game this season.

To more substantially address pace, the game probably requires a pitch clock — or, alternatively, to better enforce rule Rule 6.02 (c), which states that “if the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter.”

But before a clock is placed on every pitch of coming seasons, perhaps the commissioner’s office ought to focus on the players who are most methodical, who are most slowing down the action, those who are conducting their own personal intermissions during pitch sequences. While it’s difficult to perfectly assign credit for pace between hitter or a pitcher in any particular at-bat, when looking at a larger sample of work it becomes evident which players are really slowing down the game.

The following are the 10 qualified major-league pitchers on turtle setting, those working at the most deliberate paces…

Ten Slowest-Working Pitchers
Rank Name Pace (pi)
1 Yonny Chirinos 28.9
2 Vince Velasquez 28.4
3 Carson Fulmer 27.7
4 Robbie Ray 27.6
5 Lucas Giolito 27.0
6 Justin Verlander 26.8
7 David Price 26.8
8 Shohei Ohtani 26.7
9 Yu Darvish 26.5
10 Jake Odorizzi 26.4
SOURCE: Pitch Info

For sake of comparison, here are the fastest workers. Interestingly, if a 20-second pitch clock were to be implemented, all but five qualified pitchers would be exceeding it, on average.

Should players have the right to work at their own tempo no matter how sluggish? Does it help their performance? Attempting to correlate pace with performance is complicated. Pace and velocity do have a relationship, Rob Arthur found at FiveThirtyEight. But it is possible that forcing high-velocity arms to work more quickly could lead to greater injury risks. There could — indeed, likely would — be unintended consequences with a pitch clock. Finding the right time amount for a clock would be key. Maybe 20 seconds isn’t the ideal numbers. But James Paxton and Sean Newcomb are among those offering evidence that one can be effective while working at a relatively brisk pace. Paxton maintains elite velocity with a quick pace.

While pitchers receive the lion’s share of blame for pace issues, this author suspects batters are equally, if not more, culpable in the matter. After all, it is the batter who requests time, who steps out of the box to take practices swings, adjust batting gloves, etc. What’s undoubtedly true is that both pitchers and batters are responsible for the speed at which the game is played.

As Jeff documented last year, Marwin Gonzalez has quite a routine between pitches. He was the slowest-working hitter last year (29.6 seconds) and holds that distinction again a quarter of the way through the current season.

The following are the 10 qualified major-league hitters who are the most methodical in going about their craft…

Ten Slowest-Working Batters
Rank Name Pace (pi)
1 Marwin Gonzalez 30.0
2 A.J. Pollock 29.8
3 Odubel Herrera 29.0
4 Hanley Ramirez 28.9
5 Victor Martinez 28.6
6 Robinson Cano 27.9
7 Corey Dickerson 27.6
8 Gary Sanchez 27.5
9 Miguel Rojas 27.2
10 Buster Posey 26.8
SOURCE: Pitch Info

Let’s look at what happens when the game’s most deliberate pitcher, Yonny Chirinos, meets the American League’s most methodical hitter, Hanley Ramirez.

On April 28 in Boston, with two Red Sox runners on in the first inning, Chirinos and Ramirez had the most typical of intermissions between pitches. Chirinos, on average, takes 28.9 seconds to throw a pitch. Ramirez, on average, waits 28.9 seconds between seeing pitches.

After an 0-1 pitch was not swung at and caught cleanly, Ramirez and Chirinos required just under 30 seconds for the next pitch to be thrown. That’s a full shot clock in college basketball.

For the full-count offering, proceeded by a pitch in the dirt, Ramirez and Chirinos required 40 seconds for the following pitch to be executed.

Against the following batter, J.D. Martinez, there was a 53-second gap after the 0-2 offering.

That’s about three minutes of our lives we’re never getting back. This is the above the kind of dead time between pitches that baseball would do well to reduce.

How easy is it to do that, though? Can change occur relatively quickly? I asked Sean Dolinar to find the top pace changers from 2017 to -18. Of that group, 15 qualified pitchers have reduced their time between pitches by two seconds or more.

Top Pace Increases
Rank Name Change (Sec.)
1 Matt Boyd -3.46
2 Sonny Gray -3.23
3 Sean Newcomb -2.91
4 Danny Duffy -2.83
5 Michael Fulmer -2.78
6 Jon Gray -2.76
7 Jesse Chavez -2.62
8 Max Scherzer -2.61
9 Gio Gonzalez -2.38
10 Chase Anderson -2.23
11 Hyun-Jin Ryu -2.22
12 Charlie Morton -2.09
13 Kyle Freeland -2.06
14 Jordan Zimmermann -2.05
15 Sean Manaea -1.94

What we can conclude is some players have a pace problem. What we can also conclude is players can pick up the pace without a clock. So perhaps, rather than placing a clock on everyone, on every pitch, the sport should first keep a closer eye on watching and managing its greatest pace offenders. Pace has slightly picked up in 2018 but not everyone is operating with urgency.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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5 years ago

I wonder how a pitch clock would impact run scoring. Beyond the points laid out here, some batters and pitchers use the time to think of what they should do next. Which pitch to throw and where, or what pitch will be thrown and where. Reducing the time to think might impact one party more than another – my guess is batters, because the pitcher gets two minds thinking (pitcher/catcher, plus possibly coach too) versus just the batter.

5 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

Also, labeling the last table ‘Top Pace Increases’ seems a bit misleading. You describe it as the top changers, yet post the largest decreases but call it increases. I had to double and triple take to make sure it was about the largest decreases (and even now am curious if it shows the largest increase or decrease in pace).

(couldn’t edit the first comment, my apologies).

Captain Tenneal
5 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

He says right before the table that those pitchers reduced their time between pitches. In addition, to increase your pace means to do something faster.