Arthur: Pitchers are slowing down to speed up

From SABR member Rob Arthur at FiveThirtyEight on May 25, 2017:

Despite consternation from the commissioner and rule changes to speed up the game, baseball has never been slower than it is right now.1 Even in the short time since last season, the average delay between pitches has jumped a full second. It’s all part of a decadelong trend toward more sluggish play, and there’s an alarming reason baseball’s pace problem is likely to get even worse going forward: Slowing down helps pitchers throw faster.

Compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. This leisurely behavior has helped drag the average game out to a full three hours, five minutes — roughly 10 minutes longer than it was two years ago. Some have argued that the pace of the game isn’t a problem, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has announced that he intends to make baseball faster “for the benefit of the game and the fans.”

Regardless of where you stand on the pace-of-play debate, it hasn’t always been clear why players have slowed down so dramatically. Older hitters seem to gain from waiting longer between pitches, but that doesn’t explain why opposing pitchers have cooperated in slowing down the game. Hurlers must also have something to gain by letting the clock tick.

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Originally published: May 25, 2017. Last Updated: May 25, 2017.