Three Birds, One Stone

October 28, 2017
 
Have you ever gone bowling with a first-time bowler?
 
A new bowler, unaccustomed to the act of throwing a heavy ball while wearing traction-less shoes, will almost always start by throwing a bunch of balls into the gutter. One after another…gutter, gutter, gutter. Forgive me: I am trying to break the record for times the word ‘gutter’ is used in an article on this site. I think we’re almost there.
 
If you are watching a first-time bowler, you’ll notice that their balls will almost always go into one gutter or the other. A new bowler will not toss a few into the far-side gutter and then a few into the near-side gutter. They will roll balls towards one gutter, near-side or far-side, over and over again.
 
Anyone who has bowled in a league understands that there is an extremely easy ‘fix’ to this problem: to get someone to stop throwing gutter balls, you tell them to move as close as possible to whichever gutter they keep losing their balls to.
 
Wait...move closer to the offending gutter?
 
Whenever I’ve suggested this, I've been met with immediate skepticism. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, not intuitively. If I keep throwing the ball into the right-side gutter, why the hell would I move closer to it? Shouldn’t I get away from the problem?
 
But the solution always works. It always works because moving towards the problem gutter forces a first-time bowler’s body to adjust against its bad mechanics. A right-handed bowler who throws the ball into the right-side gutter isn’t coming around on the ball enough: by standing close to the right-side gutter, they will be forced to bring their hand around more. A right-hander who is coming around too far, launching ball after ball into the left-side gutter, will ease up on that tendency if they are standing on the far left of the alley.
 
If you think about it for a moment, the logic connects. 
 
 
*             *             *
 
I had an idea yesterday that was very much related to counter-intuitive logic, and I got very excited, and I spent about four minutes trying to see if the idea had any kind of merit. Then, in the middle of that investigation, the original thought spun off to other tangents, and I realized that I had stumbled into a notion that could save life, the universe, and the game of baseball as we know it.
 
Which is something, I suppose.
 
But let’s not get carried away too far. Let’s start with the thought, and then branch it out.
 
The thought I had was this:
 
What if the reason pitchers can’t stay healthy is because
they’re taking too much damned time between pitches.
 
Take a moment and unpack that. What I am talking about is the space in time between the violent act of throwing a baseball. What I am suggesting is that the problem with pitcher injuries is the time when they aren’t doing anything at all.
 
That is a stupid notion. That is a dumb, dumb, idea.
 
The train of thought, for almost everyone, would end right there. It’s, on its face, an absolutely absurd notion, and no one should waste any brain cells thinking about it.
 
But if you think about it a little longer, some glimmer of sense starts to kick in.
 
One small example…the first small example that I thought of…is Chris Sale. I watched a lot of Chris Sale’s start this year, because a) he changed the color of his sox, and b) he’s a terrifically fun pitcher to watch. I didn’t catch all of Sale’s starts, but I must’ve watched twenty-five of his outings. There are two things that are immediately evident about Chris Sale:
 
1.       He has a delivery that makes it look like his arm is going to fly off his shoulder, and
2.       He works incredibly quickly.
 
The third interesting thing about Chris Sale is that he has been terrifically durable. He has averaged 205 innings pitched every year since he’s been made a starting pitcher. His arm looks like it’s going to land somewhere near the on-deck circle, but it never does. At least it hasn’t yet.
 
Well, that’s one example. That’s nothing.
 
There’s also Mark Buehrle. That was thought #2.
 
If I asked you to identify one recent pitcher who was known for being a fast worker, most of you would think about Mark Buehrle. He was famous for that: he was known to be an extremely quick worker. He is the fastest-working pitcher that we have data on, by a wide margin. He is the Babe Ruth of working quickly.

And Mark Buehrle was known for being extremely durable. He threw 200+ innings fourteen years in a row. His last year he missed the target: he only got through 198.1 innings. Mark Buehrle was the most durable pitcher of his era, by a widemargin, and Mark Buehrle was the quickest worker of his generation, by an equally wide margin.
 
That’s interesting. It’s not definitive…it’s not within a thousand miles of definitive. It’s just interesting.
 
I’ll throw more data at you in a moment, but before I do I’d like you to imagine something first. Imagine that you are in the backyard, playing a game of catch with another person.
 
Just imagine that, for a moment. Close your eyes and picture yourself engaged in that task. Imagine the motion of your arm, the rhythm of what you’re doing. If you want, go outside and play catch. It’s a nice day: stop wasting it reading about lunatic baseball theories on some random website.
 
Okay, now that you’ve imagined playing a game of catch, I’d like you to imagine playing it differently. Instead of simply catching the ball and tossing it back, I want you to force yourself to take a fifteen second break in between throws. You throw the ball, catch it, and then you have to wait fifteen seconds before you can throw it again. You can do whatever you want in those fifteen seconds…you can knit a scarf or read a page of Emerson’s collected essays…but you can’t throw the ball.
 
What would happen? How would your game of catch change, given that new parameter?
 
You would throw harder. If you had to wait fifteen seconds between each throw, you’d invariably throw the ball harder. You’d think more about what you were going to do. You might practice a windup. You might mess around with your grip. You might do a thousand different things. What you will do, without question, is that you will start throwing the ball much harder. 
 
 
*             *             *
 
I think that might be what has happened in baseball over the last century. I think pitching has gone from a game of catch to a game of pitching, a game where you take more and more time to muster up more and more strength, so you can throw the ball harder and harder.
 
Okay, some data.
 
FanGraphs has been quantifying the ‘pace’ of major league pitchers since 2008. Really, they have data that extends back to 2007, but that data is suspect, as it doesn’t really fit with the information from subsequent years. Here’s what I mean:
 
Season
IP
Pace
2007
28134.1
9.5
2008
28198.2
21.2
2009
28257.1
21.4
2010
29061
21.5
2011
29299.1
21.7
2012
28617.2
22.1
2013
28676.1
22.6
2014
28992
22.9
2015
28223.1
22.1
2016
27412.2
22.6
2017
26787.1
23.6
 
Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think that the average starter in baseball jumped from allowing 9.5 seconds between pitches in 2007, to 21.2 seconds between pitches in 2008. I think it’s safe to conclude that the data from 2007 doesn’t really fit with the rest of the math here, so we can just discount it.
 
I want to throw in another note, before we start unpacking data. FanGraphs has a glossary of their terms, and they define ‘pace’ as follows:
 
Pace is more of a fun stat than anything else. Pace doesn’t really affect performance, so it’s more of a watchability type of statistic. It’s interesting to see the variation and if the players you think are quick really are.
 
And a little further along:
 
Again, Pace is simply a measure of the average time between pitches. There’s no correct way to use the stat because it doesn’t really tell you anything of value. Collectively, you can notice some patterns about the league, but so far there hasn’t been anything that points to Pace having anything beyond Fun Fact value.
 
It's a short entry, and every other sentence makes sure to tell you that there is no correlation between ‘pace’ and effectiveness. What they’re saying is: ‘Sure, we’re counting this stuff. But this stuff doesn’t matter. It’s frivolous; it’s an entertainment metrics.’
 
And maybe they’re right. No one respects the work that the writers over at FanGraphs do more than me, and if they tell me something doesn’t matter, I’m more apt to believe them than not.
 
But it irked me that the definition of ‘pace’ was so slanted towards dismissing it. Pace doesn’t really affect performance….is that actually true, or is that just what you think? (I)t doesn’t tell you anything of value. Really? I spent an hour looking at ‘pace’ metrics, and I thought of dozens of potential studies that you could do on the subject of pace.
 
I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone: I just prefer my definitions to have a little less editorializing in them. There’s a big gap between saying ‘we haven’t yet found value in a metric’ and ‘there is no value in a metric.’
 
Anyway, let’s get to the data. We’ll start in 2008, which gives us ten years of baseball to examine. Is there a correlation between a starting pitcher’s pace and their ability to stay healthy?
 
Here are the top- and bottom-paced starting pitchers over the last decade, minimum of 600 IP:
 
Slowest Pitchers
IP
Pace
Fastest Pitchers
IP
Pace
Clay Buchholz
1128.2
26.5
Mark Buehrle
1654.1
17.3
Yu Darvish
832.1
25.8
Tim Wakefield
563
18.4
Josh Beckett
1036.2
25.8
Joe Blanton
931
18.8
Jeremy Hellickson
1126.2
25.6
Brett Anderson
717.2
18.8
Sonny Gray
766.1
25.5
Jon Niese
1171
18.9
Masahiro Tanaka
668.1
25.4
R.A. Dickey
1709
19.2
Hisashi Iwakuma
853.1
25.4
Doug Fister
1328
19.3
Daisuke Matsuzaka
548
25.4
Carlos Zambrano
731.2
19.3
Alex Cobb
700
25.2
Wade Miley
1146
19.4
Edinson Volquez
1438
25.2
Matt Harrison
622
19.4
 
There are two glaring problems, one on each side of the table. In the slow-pitcher camp, there are four players who came to MLB from the Japanese League: Darvish, Tanaka, Iwakuma, and Dice-K. In the fast-pitcher group, there are two knuckleballers (Dickey and Wakefield).
 
We could count those, but I think the presence of the Japanese League pitchers and the knuckleballers is going to blur our interpretation of the outcomes. We can’t really claim to estimate the durability of the Japanese League pitchers, because so much of their careers took place in a context that is different than Major League baseball. And we shouldn’t give credit the durability of knuckleballers, because they don’t throw all that hard. 
 
So let’s cut both of those groups: the Japanese league pitchers and the knuckleballers. That gives us a new list, which I’ll extend to the twenty fastest and slowest pitchers:  
 
Slow Pitchers
IP
Pace
Fast Pitchers
IP
Pace
Clay Buchholz
1128.2
26.5
Mark Buehrle
1654.1
17.3
Josh Beckett
1036.2
25.8
Joe Blanton
931
18.8
Jeremy Hellickson
1126.2
25.6
Brett Anderson
717.2
18.8
Sonny Gray
766.1
25.5
Jon Niese
1171
18.9
Alex Cobb
700
25.2
Doug Fister
1328
19.3
Edinson Volquez
1438
25.2
Carlos Zambrano
731.2
19.3
Erik Bedard
625.2
25.2
Wade Miley
1146
19.4
Jimmy Nelson
605
25.1
Matt Harrison
622
19.4
Matt Garza
1569.1
24.9
Derek Lowe
905.1
19.5
Mike Fiers
694.1
24.9
Clayton Richard
1014.1
19.8
Ryan Vogelsong
836.2
24.9
John Lannan
823.1
19.8
Jorge de la Rosa
1124.1
24.8
Roy Halladay
1185.1
19.9
Brad Penny
523.1
24.7
Justin Masterson
1093
20
A.J. Burnett
1575
24.6
Dan Haren
1636.1
20.1
Chris Capuano
609
24.4
John Danks
1364.1
20.1
David Price
1728
24.3
Chris Volstad
704.1
20.1
Miguel Gonzalez
855
24.2
Chris Sale
1229
20.2
Carlos Carrasco
845.2
24.1
Brett Myers
707.1
20.2
Edwin Jackson
1452.1
24.1
Jeremy Guthrie
1519.1
20.2
Garrett Richards
605.1
24.0
Zach Duke
611.1
20.3
 
We’re looking at two groups from a full sample of 201 pitchers, so these lists represent the upper and lower 10% of the total group. And there is a big gap (3.7 seconds) in the pace between the slow and fast groups. It’s a good sample to start looking at.
 
But how do we look for connections?
 
We could start by counting seasons in which each of these pitchers threw a certain number of innings. Let’s go with 175 and 200 IP as benchmarks. We’ll start with the slow pitchers:
 
Slowest Pitchers
Pace
Starter Seasons
175+ IP
200+ IP
Clay Buchholz
26.5
10
1
0
 
Just a quick explanation on how I counted ‘Starter Seasons.’ I started with the first season that a pitcher became established as a starter, and counted from there. Most pitchers will make five or six starts as a rookie, throw fifty innings. I didn’t count that year as a Starter Season. But I will count the next year, if they start games.
 
What about bullpen stints? If a pitcher began a year as a starting pitcher and then landed in the bullpen, I counted that as a starter year. The team wanted to give you a shot as a starter, but you couldn’t hack it…that’s on you. But if a pitcher had years where they were in the bullpen exclusively (Derek Lowe, for instance), I didn’t count those. I didn’t count missed years…years when a pitcher was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Maybe I should count those years, but I didn’t. I counted years shortened by injury, but I didn’t count years when a pitcher didn’t pitch.
 
Then I counted how many times a pitcher managed to tally 175 and 200 IP. How strictly did I stick to those benchmarks? Not too strictly. Brad Penny threw 173.1 innings while splitting time between two teams…we’ll count that as a 175-inning season. Clayton Richard had a 199.1 inning season…we’ll round that up, Clayton. If you’re less than six outs from either benchmark, we’ll count it. Just trying to be generous.
 
Do we count the end seasons of careers? Yes, we do. If you come into the season expecting to be the starter and you can’t do it, well…that’s a knock against you. We’ll count the last-gasp seasons for starters.
 
So let’s get some data in. Here are the slow-paced pitcher tallies:
 
Slowest Pitchers
Pace
Starter Seasons
175+ IP
200+ IP
Clay Buchholz
26.5
10
1
0
Josh Beckett
25.8
14
6
3
Jeremy Hellickson
25.6
8
4
0
Sonny Gray
25.5
5
2
2
Alex Cobb
25.2
6
1
0
Edinson Volquez
25.2
13
5
1
Erik Bedard
25.2
10
2
0
Jimmy Nelson
25.1
5
3
0
Matt Garza
24.9
12
4
2
Mike Fiers
24.9
6
1
0
Ryan Vogelsong
24.9
8
3
0
Jorge de la Rosa
24.8
12
2
0
Brad Penny
24.7
13
7
2
A.J. Burnett
24.6
17
9
6
Chris Capuano
24.4
11
4
2
David Price
24.3
9
7
6
Miguel Gonzalez
24.2
8
0
0
Carlos Carrasco
24.1
7
2
1
Edwin Jackson
24.1
14
6
3
Garrett Richards
24
5
1
1
 
Who are the horses among the slow workers? David Price is the workhorse of the group…. he passes the 175 IP benchmark in seven of nine starter seasons, and passes 200 IP six times. Brad Penny and AJ Burnett and Josh Beckett are pretty solid, though they weren’t terrifically durable.
 
We have 190 Starter Seasons counted here. Of those 170 seasons, the pitcher crossed 175 innings seventy times, and 200 IP twenty-nine times. Let’s put that in a table:
 
Innings
Slow Pitchers
Percentage
175+ IP
70 of 190
36.8%
200+ IP
29 of 190
15.3%
 
So the twenty slowest-paced pitchers hit the 175 IP benchmark 37% of the time, and they crossed 200 IP 15% of the time. That’s useful.
 
Before I go further, I want to mention that I had no idea how this data would play out when I started this process. You can believe that or you can decide I’m a lying bastard; it’s up to you. But I want you to know I was flying blind here.
 
Here are the results for the fastest-paced pitchers:
 
Fastest Pitchers
Starter Seasons
175+
200+
Pace
Mark Buehrle
15
15
14
17.3
Joe Blanton
9
7
3
18.8
Brett Anderson
9
2
0
18.8
Jon Niese
9
4
0
18.9
Doug Fister
9
4
2
19.3
Carlos Zambrano
11
6
5
19.3
Wade Miley
6
4
2
19.4
Matt Harrison
7
2
1
19.4
Derek Lowe
11
10
6
19.5
Clayton Richard
5
1
1
19.8
John Lannan
7
3
1
19.8
Roy Halladay
15
8
8
19.9
Justin Masterson
7
4
2
20
Dan Haren
13
10
7
20.1
John Danks
10
6
2
20.1
Chris Volstad
5
1
0
20.1
Chris Sale
6
6
4
20.2
Brett Myers
9
7
4
20.2
Jeremy Guthrie
9
8
5
20.2
Zach Duke
7
3
2
20.3
 
The first thing that stands out is that this group has a lot more horses than the other one. Mark Buehrle was a workhorse. So was Derek Lowe, and Dan Haren. Jeremy Guthrie has been really healthy during his career. Brett Myers threw a lot of innings. Joe Blanton and Wade Miley get their work in.
 
We’re looking at 179 Starting Seasons here, which is a bit less than the other group. But this group has tallied a lot more 175+ and 200+ inning seasons than the slow-pacers.
 
Innings
Fast Pitchers
Percentage
175+ IP
111 of 179
62.0%
200+ IP
69 of 179
38.5%
 
Comparing the two groups, by percentages of Starting Seasons in which they threw 175 or 200 innings:
 
Innings
Slow Pitchers
Fast Pitchers
175+
36.8%
62.0%
200+
15.3%
38.5%
 
The fast workers, at least by this messy method, have consistently pitched more innings than the guys who take their time. They are almost twice as likely to cross the 175 IP line, and they are more than twice as likely to hit 200 innings. Even if you take Mark Buehrle out of the equation, the fast-paced pitchers have a significant edge over the slow-paced starters.
 
This isn’t proof of anything, of course. There is every possibility that this is merely a coincidence, and that there is no correlation between the amount of time a pitcher takes between throws and their ability to stay healthy enough to handle a starter’s workload.
 
*             *             *
 
 
Another way to look at it: how many players have had Tommy John surgery?
 
We have 201 pitchers counted in our data, so we can look at that group, and see if there is a correlation. Do fast-workers have more of a tendency to have Tommy John surgery, or do slow workers?
 
We’ll cut the group into thirds….67, 67, 67. Any evidence to support our claim?
 
Tommy John Rates
Total
Percentage
Slow-Paced Pitchers
15 of 67
22.4%
Middle-of-the-Pack
12 of 67
17.9%
Fast-Paced Pitchers
10 of 67
14.9%
 
 The fast-paced pitcher did a much better job of avoiding Tommy John surgery than the slow-paced pitchers. So that’s another tick in our favor, if we want to believe it.
 
*             *             *
 
Hey…I am not trying to convince you of anything here. It is entirely possible that there is no correlation between the pace that a pitcher works, and their ability to stay healthy year-after-year.
 
I am not an expert on pitching…I am not even an amateur on the subject. I would wager that I know less about what it means to pitch than most of you. If you were a pitcher on your high school baseball team, you’re ahead of me. If you were a pitcher on your Little League team, If Johnny Sain rises from the dead to tell you that I’m nuts, you should absolutely listen to Johnny Sain. I’m just looking at a few numbers. I’m just thinking out loud. I’m passing on a sequence of thoughts that I had, and some cursory research that I did related to those thoughts. It’s up to you to decide if there’s anything there.
 
What I’d like to do, before I leave you, is push out our thinking just a little bit further.
 
Let’s say I’m right. Let’s say, for a moment, that there is a correlation between the amount of time a pitcher takes between pitches, and the amount of wear and tear they put on their bodies. Let’s say that someone smarter than I am proves this, and we wake up to a new and changed world.
 
What are the repercussions? What is the inevitable outcome?
 
The outcome would be much better baseball games.
 
If you asked me to list the biggest problems with the game of baseball as it is played right now, I’d cite three problems:
 
1.       The pace of play.
2.       The number of strikeouts and walks, and,
3.       The steady erosion of starting pitchers, in favor of bullpens.
 
I think I have these issues ranked accordingly. Let’s think about them one-by-one.
 
1.       The length of baseball games makes them prohibitive to a modern audience.
 
I lovebaseball, but I don’t believe that I watched a single game this year without doing something else. A 7:00 game demands that you stay up past eleven to see the late innings. An 8:00 start means that you’re flirting with midnight. How many of us can do that, day-after day?
 
And who wants to, frankly? The amount of actual action in a baseball game has not changed appreciably over the last century. What has changed is all of the crap between the action. And every second of that crap is torture to watch. I was a big proponent of instant replay, but if I have to see another umpire crew gather to put on the earphones for a chat with New York, I’m going to chew my damned arm off.
 
People talk about limiting commercial breaks, which is a lovely idea. Let’s cut those out. But that solution is akin to cutting off your toes when you have a gangrene leg. It’ll help, but it doesn’t really get to the root of the problem.
 
The average starting pitcher took 23.6 seconds between pitches. That is a really long time between pitches. Granted, some of that time was waiting for Aaron Judge to circle the bases, but a bigger percentage of that time was someone like David Price or John Lackey waiting fifteens seconds, and then a batter calling time out, and then Lackey or Price waiting ten more seconds. That is the really killer. That stuff has no place in Game 96 of of 162. Speed it up, all of you. 
 
The pace of play a problem because it just loses future fans. No kid has the capacity to sit through four hours of a baseball game on a regular basis, and no kid has parents tolerant enough to let them sit through four hours of a baseball game. Baseball, competing for fans with a thousand entertainment streams that offer increasing immediacy, has tacked in the opposition direction: baseball is asking us to sit through more and more dead time. It’s a poor strategy. It is not going to work.
 
I think baseball has to do something drastic to shorten the length of their games, and I think that Bill is right that carrots work better than sticks. So what if the ‘carrot’ to entice a quicker pace is better health for a team’s best pitchers? Wouldn’t that be a sizeable incentive?
 
2.       The rise in strikeouts and walks is a massive problem.
 
This year, the percentage of plate appearances than ended in a walk or a strikeout crossed over 30% for the first time ever, jumping all the way to 30.1% That is a two-percent increase from the 2015 baseball season, which wasn’t all that long ago.
 
A big part of the attraction of sports is the aesthetics of kinetic endeavor: we like to see sluggardly sluggers blast a baseball into the upper atmosphere, and we like to see fielders make great plays, and we like to see fast runners steal bases. We like physical action. We like motion.
 
The strikeout, impressive as it is, is not a sequence of kinetic events: only one force (the pitcher’s arm) acts in a strikeout. The hitter swings, but the swing has no consequence. A strikeout has less action than all outcomes except the walk.
 
And walks and strikeouts take a lot longer than other outcomes. You can get a hit or ground out on one pitch, but it takes at least three pitches to strike out (unless you’re really aggressive), and it takes four pitches to draw a walk. So baseball finds itself in a scenario where the outcomes that offer the least amount of physical actions are taking up the most time.
 
That’s a problem.
 
Reducing the amount of time a pitcher can think about stuff might go a long way towards fixing the problem. A pitcher given 10 second to decide on the next pitch is going to have a harder time trying to strike out a hitter than a pitcher given 25 seconds. Zack Greinke won’t have the chance to go through all three thousand of the mental notes he has on the subject of Yasiel Puig…he’s going to limit himself to the first one hundred bullet points. That’s good news for Puig, and maybe it’ll extend Greinke’s career long enough that he’ll win 300 games.
 
3.       The steady erosion of innings with the best pitchers, in favor of fifth- and sixth-starters, and bullpens.
 
Problem three is that for every inning that Yu Darvish or Clayton Kershaw or Kenley Jansen pitches, there are a lot of innings thrown by the likes of Mike Pelfrey or Adam Conley or Jeremy Hellickson or Scott Feldman.
 
We have, in our enlightened moment, come to accept the decline in innings pitched by the game’s best pitchers as an inevitability. Our twin worries over health and effectiveness have caused us to stop questioning the decline in innings pitched. We think that it is a sign of progress, that it is a reflection of our understanding of better and better practices.
 
What if, instead, we have just been operating within a flawed structure? What if our reluctance to take ‘pace’ as a serious influence to health and effectiveness is the very thing that has brought us from the eras of Spahn and Roberts, to the era of Ryan and Seaver and Blyleven and Carlton, to our recent era of Linceums and Halladays and Kershaws?
 
If it is a structural problem, then we can change the structures, and solve the problems. We can get more innings in the ledgers of the best pitchers? Who would argue with that? Who would have a problem with that?
 
*             *             *
 
We've spent a lot of time wondering if there is a correlation between the pace that a pitcher works, and a pitcher's ability to stay healthy.
 
Here’s a last question: should it matter?
 
Should we speed up the pace of baseball games because it prevents pitcher injuries, or should we speed up the pace of baseball games because baseball games are better when there is more action, and less waiting around for action to occur?
 
It is my opinion that the injury stuff is secondary: I think the pace of the game and the rise in strikeouts are enough of a problem, and if a secondary outcome is that we have pitchers staying healthy, that’s icing on the cake. Baseball games are too long, and they are too long in the service of outcomes (strikeouts, walks) that aren’t optimal for those of us who like to watch baseball. That’s problem number one.
 
Three birds; one stone: if we speed up the pace of pitchers, we can have shorter games, and we can get more balls in play, and we can see the best pitchers throw more innings.
 
Who is going to argue with that?
 
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
  
 
 

COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

tampabob
You would throw harder. If you had to wait fifteen seconds between each throw, you’d invariably throw the ball harder.

Does the data support this? Do slower workers have higher velocity?​
9:38 PM Nov 11th
 
shinsplint
Good insight and compelling evidence, Dave. This could be your McCracken-esque observation.

In regards to BryanBM's statement about pitchers losing effectiveness once they go through the lineup a few times, perhaps one reason the fast pitchers pitch more innings could be that pitching fast ensures that their arms stay 'warmer', and thus allows them to pitch longer in games without losing as much effectiveness.
7:45 AM Oct 31st
 
shthar
If you think baseball games are too long, YOU have a problem, not baseball. Go fix your life, leave baseball alone.

But if you insist that games should be shortened, have them run fewer ads.

Good luck with that.


2:48 AM Oct 31st
 
OldBackstop
PS bowling is for dorks. Good golfers on the other hand, often play very quickly AND if they are slicing the ball you aim left and visa versa.
6:15 PM Oct 30th
 
OldBackstop
Thanks jrickert, that was where I was thinking. Is the overall time punched in...the mental stress a big element? Would some men...well, people, doing four tasks in 6 hours be more tired than someone doing 6 tasks in four hours?

I'm thinking, obviously, of acts of prostitution.
12:55 PM Oct 30th
 
Fireball Wenz
Hi Dave - Is it possible that we are measuring effect rather than cause here - are pitchers with sore arms or deliveries that result in sore arms working more slowly due to pain, etc.?
11:38 AM Oct 30th
 
astros34
This could be a landmark bit of research. Great job, Dave! Now, if someone with the ability to do so (I don't have it) could run with it and do a full-fledged study it could literally be game-changing in many ways.

Best non-Bill article I've read on this site. Keep up the good work!
9:26 AM Oct 30th
 
jwilt
"And walks and strikeouts take a lot longer than other outcomes. You can get a hit or ground out on one pitch, but it takes at least three pitches to strike out (unless you’re really aggressive), and it takes four pitches to draw a walk. So baseball finds itself in a scenario where the outcomes that offer the least amount of physical actions are taking up the most time."

Is this actually true? Do strikeouts and walks really take a lot longer than other outcomes? Or is this just an assumption you're making?

I think it's entirely plausible that a high-contact game with lots of foul balls can take just as long as a game full of Chris Davis missing three straight pitches by a foot.

In 1949 there were 40% more walks than in 2014. Did that drive game times way up? The 1949 Senators had five separate games where they walked at least 14 batters(!), and the longest of them was 3:02. On August 9th they walked 15 Philadelphia A's, the A's walked another four, there were six strikeouts, and the game was done in 2:24.

7:31 AM Oct 30th
 
evanecurb
Dave, you are obviously a great American. You have established yourself as an authority on Dunkin' Donuts, Waffle House, and league bowling. What type of pickup truck do you drive, Ford, Chevy, or Dodge?

All seriousness aside, I enjoyed the article very much. I am hoping it will spark some follow up research.
8:01 PM Oct 29th
 
jrickert
I was curious whether average game time in starts could be used as a proxy for pace in the pre-F/X era so I looked up the average start times for the 40 extreme pitchers using Retrosheet data for 2008-16. I'll list the average times (to the nearest minute) for the 20 slowest-paced starters in Dave' order from slowest to less-slowest:
194,196,188,184,188, 186,184,187,187,185, 185,187,183,188,187, 189,180,183,186,188.
Then the 20 fastest-paced starters in order:
165,177,174,178,172, 172,180,171,171,171, 174,169,177,173,175, 181,170,169,172,170.
The totals for the slow-paced pitchers were 573,000 minutes in 3059 starts, an average of 187.3 minutes per start.
For the fast-paced pitchers: 572,473 minutes in 3311 starts, an average of 172.9 minutes per start.
4:24 PM Oct 29th
 
raincheck
It seems clear to me that standing on the field, in the middle of the contest, maybe with active runners on base, thinking about the next pitch, is at least marginally more stressful and fatiguing than sitting back at the hotel room after a game with a beer, which is the trade off for slow workers.​
1:24 PM Oct 29th
 
OldBackstop
Great article, as always, Dave.

I wonder if the numbers were run for total time of an outing how this would look? Asking a guy to warm up and then pitch three hours with 20 minutes maybe of stretches on the bench may be an overall issue.
3:31 PM Oct 28th
 
BryanBM
https://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/share.fcgi?id=P1jLt

https://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/share.fcgi?id=AxtkI

The average per season, counting all seasons equally regardless of IP in that split is 1st time through the order RP: .716 OPS, 3.94 ERA, 1.411 WHIP and 4th+ time through the order SP: .745 OPS, 4.01 ERA, 1.428 WHIP.

Nolan Ryan is a genetic freak and Spahn like most pitchers was considerably less effective late in games. Kershaw is historically amazing the 4th time through the order in part because those 327 PA are when he was pitching at his best and in part because he's historically amazing.

To think it's a good idea for Spahn or most pitchers to stay in the game ignores copious amounts of data even it comes with no long term health issues: 1st .609 OPS, 2nd .640 OPS, 3rd .676 OPS, 4th .708 OPS. Spahn's managers didn't have the copious amounts of data or a bevy of young arms to abuse that are being paid substantially less than market value due to a terrible union.
2:56 PM Oct 28th
 
bertrecords
Jim Kaat preached pitching quickly. It worked for him. 25 years in the majors.
2:50 PM Oct 28th
 
SteveN
My favorite all time pitcher was Robin Roberts. He had a reputation as a fast worker and was incredibly durable.

Alas, he predates the perameters of your study.
1:30 PM Oct 28th
 
doncoffin
And, of course, the real issue, in terms of how the game is being played, is the increase in strikeouts. Walks, as a percentage of batters faced, are about where they have been since 1920--between 8% and 9%. Strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced, on the other hand, have increased almost continuously since 1920--the exception being the (roughly) decade or so from 1968 to 1980--when strikeouts fell. (And, from 1968 to 1980, the league leaders in IP were consistently over 300 per season; as strikeouts have increased, league-leading IP totals have declined, and there has not been a 300 IP season since 1980...
1:24 PM Oct 28th
 
 
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