During the telecast of the Yankees - Blue Jays game yesterday, broadcaster, Michael Kay, mentioned that John Farrell, the manager of the Blue Jays and former pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox, has encouraged his pitchers to slow their pace while pitching, much like the Red Sox do. The first thought that occurred in this brain upon hearing those words were, "He should be shot then." The hangover effect that Farrell did with the Red Sox exists to this day.
Fangraphs.com has a great feature called the Leaderboard. And the lovely thing about this feature is that you can manipulate it when needed to give you pretty much any data you want. The Leaderboard starts with WAR but again, you can change it. Well, to get to look at the pace for pitchers, it takes a little maneuvering. First, you have to change the Leaderboard to pitchers. Then you need to click on the PitchF/X tab. And then you can click on the Plate Discipline tab to get to the Pace data. It's quite a cool thing, but it takes some work to figure it all out.
Once you have the data set you want on the Leaderboard, you have to determine if you want to use the data for players qualifying for the ERA title or see a larger selection based on innings pitched. For this article, a pitch limit of 50 innings was used. You can then click on the heading for Pace to have a descending order from slowest to fastest of all pitchers who have pitched fifty innings or more. Click the Pace heading again to get the fastest paced pitchers in ascending order.
So once the correct data was obtained and the Pace heading was clicked, there was no surprise to see a Red Sox pitcher at the top of the list. There he was, Clay Buchholz, sitting there on top with a pace of 26. Talk about your human rain delay. Second on the list was Villanueva of the Blue Jays. See? Shoot that John Farrell. Then comes Bedard of the Pirates. He pitched for the Red Sox, right? Then comes two more Red Sox pitchers, Franklin Morales and Josh Beckett.
All in all, six of the top 21 slowest pitchers in baseball are from the Red Sox: Buchholz, Morales, Beckett, Lester, Bard and Doubront. That is not a coincidence. That is a strategy, first founded by Farrell, that continues today. Is it an effective strategy? Umm...don't know. But based on the Red Sox rotation this season, it isn't helping.
So which pitchers have the fastest pace in baseball? Buehrle is always on top in that category. If he had his way, the third baseman would make the pitch when the ball was going around the horn after an out. Following Buehrle is Halladay and Harrison, followed by Dickey and Niese. That is a pretty effective group of pitchers. Continuing down the list of some of the fastest paced pitchers are guys like Sale, Pettitte, Miley, Masterson.
Color analysts always seem fond of telling us that fast paced pitchers keep the defense on its toes better and that it is hard to be a fielder behind a slow pitcher. That would take a lot of data crunching to figure out. But it would be a worthwhile study if it hasn't been done already. But say the analysts are correct, why would a team strategize to pitch at a slower pace? The prevailing wisdom is that it keeps the batters uncomfortable at the plate. Well, no, that doesn't work because batters will just step out and the process will start all over again.
But again, the Red Sox have been doing this for years. Papelbon, now with the Phillies is the fourth slowest paced reliever in baseball. Frasor, of the Blue Jays is also among the slowest. Farrell seems to be the architect of the strategy in Boston and is making new disciples in Toronto. The strategy works against the stated goal of Major League Baseball to speed up games. There is still a rule on the books about how many seconds a pitcher has to throw the ball. Why isn't it ever enforced?
This observer is dubious that the strategy works. So perhaps if Lester, Buchholz and Beckett want to get out of their pitching doldrums, here is an idea: Speed it up a bit.