One of the many tangibly intangible things that a pitcher can do to endear himself to umpires, his defense, and their adoring TV viewer public is to work fast. Pitchers also benefit themselves by working fast, as one of the basic tenets of successful pitching is to interrupt a hitters timing — by controlling the pace of an at bat, the greater chance a hitters innate cadence and timing for each pitch can be oh so slightly interrupted.
Even with some of these tiny advantages to working fast, some pitchers just…
One of the many side stories of this year’s World Series that exemplifies this was Clay Buchholz‘ pace to pitch. Glacier-like was the overarching sentiment as to how quickly a Buchholz outing went; given the age-old complaint that any Boston Red Sox game takes longer than most, this wasn’t a new revelation.
So was it all in our heads? And how do Washington Nationals pitchers do in this arena of pitching?
FanGraphs can help us out with this — with the pace statistic.
Pace tells us, on average, how many seconds a pitcher take in between pitches of an at bat. For 2013, the average time between pitches was 22.9 seconds, when you include all players who made an appearance as a pitcher (*waves at Skip Schumaker and John McDonald*).
Again looking at all pitchers, starter or reliever, but using an innings pitched cutoff of 10 innings and we find that the fastest pitcher was New York Yankee Vidal Nuno, at a 17.2 second pace; on the other side of the coin, Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta was the slowest, at 31.9 seconds.
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story; while time between pitches is obviously a hindrance to a quick game, so are the number of pitches thrown. More pitches thrown, the more time in between pitches, the longer the inning is — simple math. So with that in mind, let’s pull out our abacuses, TI-82 calculators, and perhaps some scratch paper, and figure out who are the yin and yang of pitching pace.
So, we have pace, innings pitched, and total pitches, courtesy of FanGraphs. From there, we simply need to calculate pitches per inning, then multiply by pace, then divide by 60 to get a rough estimate of how long an inning is for a given pitcher, in minutes.
Doing all of this voodoo brings us to this:
Cool? Kinda, I guess; to circle back to the Buchholz reference and close the book on that, he comes in at a 24.2 second pace, 15.04 pitches per inning, which gives him an average inning pitched in 6.09 minutes. This ranks him 54th among 146 pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched and fourth out of the five Red Sox starters with at least 100 IP. Yes, Clay is a quick worker, compared to his carmine brethren.
Enough of that, let’s talk WASHINGTON NATIONALS BASEBALL. Remember that? Barely, I know. Sarcasm aside, let’s have a look at how the Nats staff pans out with this whole pace thing. A priori, we are led to believe that Jordan Zimmermann is a very fast worker and Stephen Strasburg kind of plods along.
Any truth to this?
Well, yes and no; ZNN appears to be a quick worker, for sure — not too far behind the pace setter (pun intended) Nuno at 4.79 minutes per inning, but Strasburg isn’t too far behind him. So we have a wee bit of a misconception of Strasburg’s pace, even when pitch count is factored into a pitcher’s overall pace. We also find Nathan Karns conspicuously absent from our list; for whatever reason, Karns and two other players’ paces were not listed by FanGraphs.
Yunesky Maya? Yeah. Moving on…
The bottom part of the list — let’s lovingly dub them DAWDLERS — are primarily relievers. While we know that Tyler Clippard enjoys long walks around the mound, blowing into his pitching hand, licking his hand, and doing a number of sundry things on his pre-pitch checklist before dealing, we also see another quirk about the pace stat and an underlying component of it, courtesy of hitters, with the dawdlers — home runs.
Yes, the more home runs you give up, the more time you have to wait for the hitter to get around the bases before you can throw your next pitch. While I will save the rigorous statistical analyses for the effect of home run rate on pace for another day — and as we can see in the above table, it isn’t something that appears to be highly correlated — it is an unfortunate aspect of pitcher pace.
Keeping with eyeballing trends, we also see with the Nats that relievers are a tick slower than starters, in general. While homers do play a role, the fact that relievers are in-game during typically higher leverage situations — a fancy way to say there are men on base with the game on the line — the need to change your timing to the plate and even throw over to first base on occasion to keep a runner close takes precedence over keeping your pace number low. Strategery at its finest.
So again doing some quick eyeballing, the Nats average a 6.03 minute inning; countering
Cubans outliers and using the median, Nats pitchers come in at about 5.7 minutes per inning. Comparing that to the MLB overall (and again using a 10 IP cutoff) and an average 6.3 minute inning or 6.2 minute median inning, and we see that Nats hurlers are a tad quicker than the average team.
Here’s how the entire MLB pans out; note that this chart does not include data from players who swapped teams during the season and are thus noted as playing for ‘—’ by FanGraphs.
So there you have it; the Angels are DAWDLERS on average, while the Braves and Cardinals, bastions of all that is unwritten and unheralded, are the quickest. Snark aside, both of those teams more than likely have an organizational mantra that predisposes guys to work fast, and if you look at their team pitching stats, it’s definitely not hurting their stock.
Pace; it’s not just salsa.