Lindbergh: Does baseball have a pace problem?

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus on April 17, 2014:

On June 13, 2012, in a close but otherwise unmemorable game at Great American Ball Park between the Reds and Indians, Joey Votto and Derek Lowe reminded us what baseball is missing:


That’s Votto’s third-inning plate appearance, a six-pitch walk. The PA was notable not because of the outcome—Votto led the National League in walks that season, despite playing in only 111 games, so a free pass was predictable—but because of how little time it took and the way Votto approached each offering. The slugger barely adjusted his stance or his position in the batter’s box from pitch to pitch, moving his feet only when Lowe came inside on 2-2. He showed no compulsion to do a lap around the plate, no need to adjust his batting gloves. And somehow, he survived.

Lowe was one of the game’s quickest workers in 2012. We know that not just from watching him, but by virtue of PITCHf/x, which began to tag each pitch with a timestamp in 2010. By comparing each pitch’s timestamp to the previous one—and using only consecutive pitches, so that the time between isn’t counted if a pick-off throw breaks up the action—we can determine the time it took to deliver. A stopwatch would serve the same purpose for a single pitch or plate appearance, but a database allows us to dig deeper, calculating the average pace for any pitcher or hitter in a given season, as well as for the league as a whole.

Lowe’s average time between pitches in 2012 was 16.92 seconds. The league’s as a whole was 21.05, which means that a 100-pitch start by Lowe that season would have included almost seven minutes less standing around than one by a typical pitcher. Votto ranked toward the middle of the pack in 2012 time between pitches, so in this case, he was probably just trying to disrupt Lowe’s timing by matching (or exceeding) the opposing starter’s pace for a single plate appearance. In doing so, he gave us a glimpse of the batter-pitcher confrontation stripped down to the essentials, without any of the filler that normally gives us plenty of time to stare at our seconds screens during breaks in the on-field action.

Unfortunately, there’s more of that filler than there was even 3-4 years ago ago. Inter-pitch pace took a sizeable hit between 2011 and 2012 and has slowed further in the season-plus since.

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Originally published: April 17, 2014. Last Updated: April 17, 2014.