Papelbon vs. Pena: an Exercise in Waiting

I’m not going to go over what Pace is again, because not only have I written about it several times — it’s also perfectly intuitive, such that you should understand it on the first try. Pace isn’t important, for baseballing purposes, but Pace is important for watchability purposes, therefore Pace is of some importance to us as fans. It’s tracked at FanGraphs, for both pitchers and hitters, and also for whole teams and leagues. It is a statistic not unworth examining.

In the past, I’ve played with opposite extremes. In September, I wrote about Mark Buehrle facing Carlos Pena. Pace tells us that Buehrle is the fastest-working pitcher, while Pena is the slowest-working hitter. I wanted to see what would happen to their Paces during head-to-head showdowns, and the results split the middle. More recently, I wrote about Jonathan Papelbon facing Michael Bourn. Similar idea in mind, with Pace telling us Papelbon is the slowest-working pitcher, while Bourn is the fastest-working hitter. Preliminary results showed a Pace right on Papelbon’s slow average. Bourn didn’t make Papelbon speed up.

So, there’s some amount of evidence that a slow hitter can slow down a fast pitcher. There’s not much evidence that a fast hitter can speed up a slow pitcher. Those are the two opposite extremes, and they could be studied in greater depth, but we can also compare same-side extremes. What happens if, say, a slow pitcher faces a slow hitter? We know that Papelbon has, historically, been the slowest-working pitcher, and we know that Pena has, historically, been the slowest-working hitter. They’ve faced each other. What was the tempo like?

I went into this assuming I wouldn’t find any meaningful change from Papelbon’s usual Pace. Through the PITCHf/x era, Papelbon’s posted a 30.9s Pace, while Pena has posted a 27.6s Pace. Pena has a whole little routine he goes into between pitches, and Papelbon’s a deliberate sort, and I figured Pena’s Pace fits within Papelbon’s Pace. I figured that Pena could do his thing while Papelbon could do his thing, and then we’d observe a matchup Pace right around 31 seconds or so.

Well, a few things. What you’re going to find isn’t official PITCHf/x Pace, but rather approximated Pace, based on MLB.tv video I could get to load. I put in a request for official Pace data and if and when I get that I’ll see about putting it in the post. And I could watch only four Papelbon vs. Pena matchups — three in 2010, and one in 2011. One of them was one pitch long. One of them oddly took place in the seventh inning, when Papelbon wasn’t going to be all Papelbony. We’re dealing with hardly any data at all, but we might as well examine what we’ve got.

Here’s a plate-appearance breakdown:

  • April 16, 2010. First pitch crosses home plate around 3:12:13 mark in MLB.tv window. Eighth pitch crosses home plate around 3:17:03 mark.
  • May 25, 2010. One pitch only. However, as an estimate, Pena appears to step up around 2:59:46 mark. The pitch is thrown around 3:00:26 mark.
  • July 7, 2010. Papelbon strangely faces Pena in the seventh inning. It’s the only time Papelbon has pitched in the seventh since 2005. Papelbon, therefore, isn’t serving as a closer. First pitch crosses home plate around 2:29:55 mark. Sixth pitch crosses home plate around 2:31:50 mark.
  • May 22, 2011. First pitch crosses home plate around 2:49:51 mark. Seventh pitch crosses home plate around 2:54:12 mark. This was the first such plate appearance that I watched, and it made me hate myself for coming up with this idea.

Put it all together, and you divide 699 seconds by 19 pitches, for an average Pace of about 36.8 seconds. Leave out the seventh-inning showdown and the Pace goes up to 41.7 seconds. Papelbon’s career Pace is about 31 seconds, against a wide variety of different hitters. Based on this very limited data, Carlos Pena found a way to make Jonathan Papelbon slow down. You’ve got a slow pitcher, a slow hitter, and a hitter who likes to get himself into deep counts. The research for this little project was unbearable.

And now you get to share in the unbearability of it all. Here is what I consider to be a representative .gif of Carlos Pena facing Jonathan Papelbon.

PenaPapelbon3.gif.opt

That’s from the one-pitch plate appearance on May 25, 2010. There was a lot more, too, but I couldn’t include it, because then the file size of the .gif got too large. Carlos Pena was happy to go through his whole routine. Jonathan Papelbon was happy to give Pena the time, and then go through his own. I knew these matchups would be hard to watch, but I think I underestimated their unwatchability.

So much more research could be done. For this study in particular, we could use a way bigger sample size of Papelbon vs. Pena showdowns. But it’s probably in the world’s best interests that a way bigger sample size of such showdowns doesn’t exist.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Luis Ayala
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Luis Ayala
3 years 7 months ago

And how has this not been recommended for a SABR award? Why aren’t people talking about this?

tylersnotes
Member
3 years 7 months ago

that rare instance where even the most dedicated sabermatrician would hope against a larger sample size.

Jaack
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Jaack
3 years 7 months ago

Its a common thing to here among pitchers that they use the song “Happy Birthday” to pace themselves correctly and consistently. Papelbon has a similar approach, except instead of “Happy Birthday” he uses the full cut of “Freebird.”

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

Under the influence of several beverages, I misclicked the ‘thumbs down’ when I intended fully to click the ‘thumbs up’. A sincere and personal apology is in order.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 7 months ago

I clicked plus for you though I was not intending to do so myself. One more contributor will make it even.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

“Replay will slow the game down!!!”

antonio bananas
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antonio bananas
3 years 7 months ago

You think Papelbon is as slow in everything else? 2 minutes to brush my teeth? More like 2 hours. 30 seconds to wash my hands? How about 30 seconds just getting them sufficiently wet.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 7 months ago

I wonder if this somehow can be done in a historical context (going back a bit)… to include real as well as hypothetical matchups.. Papelbon vs Mike “human rain delay” Hargrove, for example.

Scott
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Scott
3 years 7 months ago

This article had me in stitches. I always used to fall asleep during Papelbon saves vs. TB when Pap played on the sox…now I know why

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 7 months ago

This was so slow that when the gif ended and started to loop I didn’t realize at first and thought that it was still just waiting around for the at bat.

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