This morning, I did a quick story for the Wall Street Journal on pace between pitches. So far, the Cleveland Indians look like the stars of working quickly, as all five of their starters have taken less than 20 seconds between pitches. Derek Lowe and Justin Masterson actually rank second and third in baseball in pace so far this year, behind only Roy Halladay and his Two Hours Of Doom approach.
You know who the slowest working pitching staff in baseball is to this point of 2012? The Boston Red Sox, who have taken an average of 24.6 seconds between pitches this year. You know who was the slowest working pitching staff in 2011? The Red Sox. 2010? The Red Sox. 2009? The Red Sox. 2008? The Red Sox.
The last time that Boston didn’t have the slowest working pitching staff in baseball was 2007. That year, they had the second slowest staff, getting edged out by the Yankees by 0.3 seconds per pitch.
You know who the slowest working starting pitchers in baseball have been since 2007? Josh Beckett (25.6 seconds between pitches), Daisuke Matsuzaka (25.4), and Clay Buchholz (25.2). They are the only three starters in the sport to take more than 25 seconds between pitches, and they all pitch for the Red Sox.
Even shifting to relievers, where there’s more annual turnover and where we can see a broader selection of pitchers, we find the Red Sox as the most deliberate group in baseball, and it’s not even close. Since 2007, their relievers have taken an average of 25.7 seconds between pitches (relievers work slower in general, so the numbers are higher here), a full 1.6 seconds slower than the next slowest bullpen. The slowest working reliever in baseball over that span? Jonathan Papelbon (tied with Rafael Betancourt) at 31.0 seconds between pitches.
The Red Sox have had 51 pitchers throw at least 10 innings for them over the last 5+ years, and exactly two of those 51 have averaged fewer than 20 seconds between pitches. These heroes are Tim Wakefield (18.8 seconds) and Scott Atchison (19.9 seconds). The other 49 guys who have taken the mound have all been no faster than average in time between pitches, and they’ve ranged all the way down to the absolute slowest workers in the sport.
This isn’t a small sample size. With nearly 50 pitchers over 5+ years, and consistent finishes as the slowest working team in baseball, this sure has all the earmarks of an organizational philosophy. And it’s an annoying one.
Red Sox games already take a long time because their hitters take a lot of pitches and score a lot of runs. At least that philosophy can be directly related to offensive success, and is an area where you can see the positive results of taking a deliberate approach. But, it’s not like the Red Sox pitchers have been world beaters, or that there’s some obvious advantage they’re gaining by having their pitchers spend a bunch of time walking around the mound and scratching themselves between pitches.
Major League Baseball has made a lot of efforts over the last 10 to 15 years to reduce some of the delays in action in the sport. Perhaps they’ve missed the most obvious step – contract the Red Sox. That would fix an awful lot of problems, and rid us of Bobby Valentine‘s media circus at the same time. Win-win!
Editor’s Note: I’m kidding. Sort of.
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