More than anyone else on staff, and possibly more than anyone else on the planet, I like to look at and think about pitcher Pace. I’ve written about it here on several occasions, because watchability is a major concern of mine. Of course we just want there to be baseball, but if we all had our druthers, there would more consistently be entertaining baseball, and Pace plays a part in determining entertainment value. There are times when it’s better for things to slow down, allowing tension to build. More often, we’d rather a guy go faster than slower.
As is, though, Pace is expressed in seconds. By definition, Pace is the average amount of time between each pitch, and while we can see major differences at either extreme, we’re still thinking about it in terms of seconds. Seconds feel insignificant. Drink a glass of water. That took you several seconds, assuming you followed my order. You’ll feel like it took you no time at all. Now drink several glasses of water. Practically drown yourself with water! That took you longer, assuming you followed my order again for some stupid reason.
As with the glasses of water, pitches pile up, which means the seconds pile up, making a bigger deal out of the differences. So one guy might be ten seconds faster than another guy on a per-pitch basis. What’s the difference on a per-plate-appearance basis? What about on a per-inning basis? You can get an idea of what Pace means by looking at it, but by multiplying, the point gets driven home. Some pitchers just spend way less time on the mound than other pitchers do. Maybe they have stage fright? Maybe this whole time, Mark Buehrle has had stage fright. Jonathan Papelbon, meanwhile, loves the attention.
What you’re going to find below are some tables, including 2012 regular-season data. We’ll have the top 10 fastest pitchers on a PA basis, the bottom 10 slowest pitchers on a PA basis, the top 10 fastest pitchers on an IP basis, and the bottom 10 slowest pitchers on an IP basis. It was very easy to calculate each pitcher’s average number of pitches per plate appearance and inning. Then it was a matter of easy multiplication, and while these numbers won’t be perfectly accurate — there are occasional delays, and pick-offs, and time between batters, and so on and so forth — they’re good approximations. Time is expressed in seconds.
I used a 30-inning minimum. Time per inning will be somewhat subject to BABIP randomness, since good or bad luck will shorten or extend innings for reasons out of the pitcher’s control. Time per inning is mostly retrospective, while time per plate appearance is both retrospective and fairly predictive.
Table 1: Top 10 fastest pitchers, per plate appearance
Table 2: Bottom 10 slowest pitchers, per plate appearance
Table 3: Top 10 fastest pitchers, per inning
Table 4: Bottom 10 slowest pitchers, per inning
Between Buehrle and Peralta, you have a difference of more than a minute per plate appearance. Between Atchison and Frasor, you have a difference of nearly five minutes per inning. Atchison had a low BABIP and Frasor had a high BABIP, so their “true” difference isn’t that large, but it would still be pretty large. And right behind Frasor, we see the still-unemployed Jose Valverde. Right behind Atchison, we see a number of starters.
It’s worth noting that Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey went head-to-head twice last season, on April 25 and September 22. The first game lasted two hours and 29 minutes, while the second game lasted two hours and 26 minutes. Last year’s average Marlins game lasted two hours and 57 minutes, while last year’s average Mets game lasted two hours and 56 minutes. That, of course, is with Buehrle and Dickey starts included. That would’ve been some nicely-tempoed baseball, between sometimes unwatchable teams.
To close with a fun fact: last year, Kris Medlen threw 138 innings, and he spent approximately 9.8 hours on the mound in the act of pitching. Jose Valverde threw 69 innings, and he spent approximately 10.4 hours on the mound in the act of pitching. That is, Valverde spent more overall time standing on the mound last season than Medlen did, despite throwing half as many innings. I can think of reasons I’m sad Valverde doesn’t yet have a job. I can think of reasons I’m not sad in the least.