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.
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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