Let's talk about pitcher pace...

Justin K. Aller

Pitcher Pace is a statistic introduced by Fangraphs that dates back to 2007 on their pitching leaderboards. The premise behind the statistic is extremely easy to grasp: It is the average time (in seconds) that elapses between pitches.

Twenty-two and six-tenths seconds.

That was the league average time between pitches in the MLB last season. On average, there are 292 pitches per major league game. Excluding the first pitches (since there was no pitch prior) by both teams for nine innings, that leaves 274 pitches per game. Thus, after simple multiplication and a necessary unit conversion, the time spent between pitches amounts to roughly 103 minutes.

According to this article from ESPN, the average MLB game lasted two hours and fifty-eight minutes in 2013. That means that nearly 58% of a baseball game is spent between pitches, with virtually no real action taking place. Sure, diehard baseball fans are able to find joy in the intricacies of the game, but does this apply to the average fan? How about the casual fan? I know I enjoy watching Adam Wainwright display the guts to shake off Yadier Molina with two outs, two strikes, and runners in scoring position, but I highly doubt this can be classified as the norm.

There is a rule (8.04) for pitcher pace, but it is rarely enforced, if at all. In 2007, they reduced the time between pitches with no one on base from 20 seconds to 12 seconds, and the price for each violation is a Ball awarded to the batter in the count. The reasoning behind this "rule" is summed up in Official Rules:

"The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire."

Though the rule makes sense, the league averages for pitcher pace since 2007 (~21.8 seconds and trending upward) show that this rule is simply not being enforced. There is one possible explanation for this, but I find it extremely hard to believe. To my knowledge, there is no rule for the amount of time "allowed" between pitches when runners are on base. Pitchers could be taking exponentially longer with runners on base and subsequently inflating the pitcher pace averages. Though unlikely, this is definitely something worth taking a look at, but I don't believe this data is available to the public, so one would have to acquire it on his/her own (by bringing a stopwatch to a game).

What about the individual Cardinals pitcher paces from last season?

In just under 1,500 innings pitched in 2013, the Cardinals average pitcher pace was 22.2 seconds—slightly faster than the league average. Seth Maness (18.8 seconds) and Michael Wacha (19.6 seconds) were the fastest, but even they took too long according to Rule 8.04. Statistically, Randy Choate (26.1) has been the third slowest between pitches of any Cardinals pitcher—behind Russ Springer (26.4) and Andy Cavazos (who?!; 26.3).

An average of 22.2 seconds between pitches is not only too slow for the current rule (12 seconds), but also the old rule (20 seconds), and before I get into a possible "fix" for this "problem," let's go over some outliers. In short, position players don't mess around. Though all are extremely small sample sizes, Rob Johnson (12.3), Scott Spiezio (12.9), Skip Schumaker (12.9), Aaron Miles (13.8), and Joe Mather (15.7) round out the top five for fastest Cardinals "pitchers" in terms of pace. Around the league, Mark Buehrle (16.7) is one of the fastest, and Rafael Betancourt (30.8) has been the slowest.

So what can be done? If anything needs to be done of course...

Back in 2011, the SEC of the NCAA incorporated use of an on-field "pitch clock" in hopes of speeding up games. NCAA pitchers have 20 seconds between pitches with no runners on base. It may be the old MLB rule of 20 seconds, but at least the umpires have a concrete measure of actually enforcing it. Plus, with a league average pace of just under 23 seconds, even this would be considered an "improvement." With seemingly no new articles on the topic since 2011, I checked Twitter to see if the rule is actually enforced:

Thus, it appears it is at least somewhat enforced, which is much better than not being enforced at all in the big leagues. Most baseball fans enjoy the fact that there is no clock in baseball, and I completely understand that. However, with an MLB executive stating that games should be shortened to seven innings, I would much rather "fix" something that is already in the rule book than do something as drastic as removing innings from the game. Now, would they ever shorten the game to seven innings? Probably not, but it is at least worth noting.

How much shorter would a game be with a 12-second pitch clock? I really don't know, but at the same time, I am not at all opposed to at least trying it out. I love baseball. I always have and I always will, but I have many friends that don't like the game all that much, largely because of the downtime between pitches. Would this help? What are your thoughts?

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