Troy Tulowitzki and Everything In-Between

I’m going to come right out and say this is another FanGraphs article about batter pace. That is, the average amount of seconds between each pitch thrown to the batter, as determined by PITCHf/x time stamps. I haven’t gone to this well in a while, and I know it doesn’t appeal to everyone, since pace doesn’t mean much when it comes to determining future or present performance. Pace is a peripheral detail, and while I personally occasionally find it fascinating, you’re free to leave now. I’m not misleading you about what’s to follow.

Go to the batter leaderboards and sort them by pace, in descending order. Or don’t, and let me tell you what you’ll find anyway. You’ll find Carlos Pena at No. 1, which isn’t unusual, because Pena has always taken forever. Then you’ll find Troy Tulowitzki, then Kelly Shoppach, then Robinson Cano, then Travis Hafner. These are some pretty different players, and it’s hard to know on the surface what to make of this. But one of these things is unusual. Historically, these have been four slower-than-average hitters. Also, there’s Tulowitzki.

I think the last thing I wrote about Tulowitzki here was in the pre-season positional power rankings, when he shined as the greatest shortstop in baseball. He’s done little to prove that assertion false; Tulo, this year, has stayed healthy, and Tulo, this year, has been virtually unstoppable. He’s both hit the crap out of the ball and fielded the crap out of the ball, with the end result being one of the league’s most valuable players. Tulowitzki helps, in large part, keep the Rockies afloat.

Now then, as you might imagine, pace is a pretty stable stat. You can think of it as kind of a signature figure, in that players have their own paces. It’s different with nobody on base than with runners on — and it changes based on the pitcher. But over a big enough sample, pace stays steady. I pulled all batters who batted at least 100 times in both 2012 and 2013. The correlation of their season-to-season paces comes out to .83. That’s strong, and only Luke Scott‘s pace has changed by more than three seconds. And only Scott’s pace has decreased by more than two seconds.

We have reliable PITCHf/x data going back to 2008, which means we have reliable pace data going back to 2008, too. For many players over the years, you wouldn’t expect to see much of a pace change. But one might happen to look to the Tulowitzki example. This season, Tulowitzki has a pace of 28 seconds. That’s the second-highest pace in the league. In 2008, he had a pace of 20.5 seconds. It’s been climbing ever since.

So far, we can find 147 players who batted at least 100 times in both 2008 and 2013. The correlation of their paces is .68 — weaker than the correlation between 2013 and 2012, but still strong, especially considering how much time it’s been. Nobody’s pace has decreased by two seconds. Tulowitzki’s pace has increased by 7.5 seconds. The second-biggest increase belongs to Chris Young, at 4.2. Pace is an indicator of something, and in between all the pitches, for Troy Tulowitzki, something has changed. And it’s been pretty dramatic.

Here’s what that 2008 versus 2013 pace data looks like, in image form:

mlbpace20082013

You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the Tulowitzki point. It’s the one that doesn’t at all fit the invisible line. And for another graph, let’s check out Tulowitzki against the league average over the years:

tulovsmlb20082013

Once upon a time, Tulowitzki was pitched to faster than average. Now he’s in the running for the slowest overall pace, and I’ve been looking at this for several weeks. Tulowitzki hasn’t sped up.

What’s been going on with Tulowitzki? All we can do is try to observe him on video, and unfortunately the MLB.tv archives aren’t available for 2008, when his pace was the fastest. But we can find some video for 2009, when Tulowitzki’s pace was still more than five seconds faster than it is today. In 2009, he was pitched to about a second slower than average. Now the gap’s at five-and-a-half seconds. Let’s start by looking at Tulowitzki with nobody on base in an at-bat from 2009:

TuloEmpty2009.gif.opt

Now Tulowitzki with nobody on base, from last weekend:

TuloEmpty2013.gif.opt

Earlier, Tulowitzki left his batting gloves alone. He stomped one time in the box with his right foot, instead of two times. He took three steps back, instead of four. There are little differences, and while one pitch isn’t representative of a whole season, players usually don’t change up how they behave in between pitches. They tend to have a steady routine.

Now Tulowitzki, with a runner on in 2009:

TuloOn2009.gif.opt

Tulowitzki, with a runner on in an at-bat, from last weekend:

TuloOn2013.gif.opt

In 2009, again, the batting gloves are untouched. I cut off the 2013 .gif before the broadcast introduced a graphic that remained on the air for several seconds. All of this dialogue was easily spoken in between consecutive pitches to Tulowitzki:

Announcer No. 1: Well, a recipe for longballs. This is very interesting. Look at these numbers. The Rockies at 82 home runs, the most in the National League, that’s not a surprise. The Padres, though, allowing the second-most, they play their home games at Petco where every game is two to one it seems like. I know they moved the fence in but just a little bit.

Announcer No. 2: Yeah, I mean it shouldn’t be that big a difference.

Announcer No. 1: The other wild thing about that stat — as Tulowitzki takes a strike…

Screenshots might be of additional assistance. Tulowitzki, in 2009 and 2013:

tulo2009

tulo2013

In the bottom image, he’s on the grass. He’s not just outside of the batter’s box, he’s half outside the whole circle. No, this isn’t definitive proof that Tulowitzki has changed his between-pitch routine. We’d need to look at a lot more pitches. But when you take this and combine it with the pace data, I don’t know what other conclusion one might reach. Tulowitzki has slowed down every year, and it’s not just because of the pitchers. It’s not just because he’s improved: Tulowitzki was outstanding in 2007 and he was an MVP candidate in 2009. It’s not about deeper counts, because Tulowitzki’s average pitches per plate appearance has hardly changed. Tulowitzki is taking more time between pitches, and pitchers can do only so much about it. They can’t hurry the batter back into the box, and a guy who has a routine will usually be allowed to go about that routine.

It’s not weird that Tulowitzki is slow. It’s not weird that he steps way back, or that he takes practice swings, or that he messes with his batting gloves. Lots of batters have their own individual quirks, and no one can forget Nomar Garciaparra. What’s weird is Tulowitzki has changed so much as a major leaguer. The change wasn’t sudden, but it’s been building — steadily — for years. All that makes you wonder if Tulowitzki could get even slower. It’s like he’s been adding an additional thing each year, slowing the pace further and further. I don’t know how that starts. or if it’s conscious, but the evidence suggests that once something is a part of Tulowitzki’s routine. It doesn’t go away.

It’s all habit, or superstition. I would’ve guessed that these things would have been embedded by the time a guy was promoted to the bigs. By that point he would’ve already had years to get a system down. I would’ve guessed Tulowitzki had a system in college and in the minors. I’m sure he did, but it’s changed, all in one direction. And that’s surprising, because it’s weird. It doesn’t matter, and Tulowitzki’s fantastic and people like him, but change is curious no matter the larger significance. Something has gotten into Tulowitzki’s head. He might not even realize it, but relative to six years ago, Tulowitzki is being pitched 37% slower. I’d say that doesn’t happen by accident, but maybe it does.

Somebody should ask Tulowitzki about this. Maybe he’d have an explanation. Or maybe it’d be more interesting if he didn’t.



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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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mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
2 years 11 months ago

He has said that his favorite player growing up was Derek Jeter……

Mike P
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Mike P
2 years 11 months ago

There was a Latin player in the 50’s or 60’s who used to take a lot of time between pitches, it might have been Aparicio but I forget exactly. Anyway he was eventually asked about his whole between pitch routine and he swore he had no idea that he was doing any of the things they said and he had no reason for it either. I hope some asks Tulo about this.

DD
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DD
2 years 11 months ago

Wonder if pitchers in the NL West are slowing their pace more so than league average? Basically, does it have something to do with the pitchers too? One would expect that.

mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
2 years 11 months ago

Every time the pitcher is back position on the rubber, Tulo is still standing 5 feet from the plate, so I don’t think pitchers they have much to do with it.

Big Sexy
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Big Sexy
2 years 11 months ago

Yeah Tulo is a heady guy he does shit like that

Ben
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Ben
2 years 11 months ago

Trying unsuccessfully to find Pace on the leaderboards. What tab is it on?

Ben
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Ben
2 years 11 months ago

As a Cubs fan, I’m expecting David DeJesus to be high on the list.

Mike
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Mike
2 years 11 months ago

It’s under PITCHf/x -> Plate Discipline.

mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
2 years 11 months ago

Looking at the recent Pace leaders, this article should be about Carlos Pena & Robinson Cano. They are 2-4 seconds longer than Tulo (and his glove-tightening idol Jeter.)

Ben
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Ben
2 years 11 months ago

Thanks, Mike. I was right about DeJesus – he’s #6.

Tommy
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Tommy
2 years 11 months ago

Of note about Tulo in 09, he changed his stance in the first week of June that year .226/.319/.396 on June 1st, then hit .332/.410/.630 the rest of the way.

Jaker
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Jaker
2 years 11 months ago

“Somebody should ask Tulowitzki about this.”

No! You stay out of his head. You just let him keep on keepin’ on and nobody gets hurt…

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
2 years 11 months ago

Many teams will instruct their hitters to step out of the batter’s box in the hopes of disrupting a good pitcher that likes to pitch in rhythm. In just the last week, I’ve seen the Brewers as a team do it against Cliff Lee and the Rays against Lester. Umpires allow way too many late time calls from hitters.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 11 months ago

I heard that Tulo thinks about every pitch he’s ever seen between every pitch. As the years have gone on, and he’s seen more pitches, it takes him longer and longer to run through the entire catalog in his head.

mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
2 years 11 months ago

He actually disappears, saves the world, and comes right back, lightening fast Superman style. As the war on terror grows more nebulous, he has to do this more and more times between pitches.

Tommy
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Tommy
2 years 11 months ago

More like WAR on terror

frivoflava29
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frivoflava29
2 years 11 months ago

Are you thinking about Greg Maddux? The same has been said about him in regard to hitting & sequencing pitches. Wouldn’t be surprised either way

The Surging Danube
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2 years 11 months ago

You have read the recent Boston Globe report “Why do baseball games take so long?

Marty
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Marty
2 years 11 months ago

Honestly this makes me lose a bit of respect for Tulo. A 28-second pace is just ridiculous and the umpires need to step in and speed up the game. Get back in the box and let’s get on with it.

Scraps
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Scraps
2 years 11 months ago

You’re not going to get away with another damn article about pace, Jeff Sullivan. Even worse is the whole-paragraph apology, like you’re being sloooooow in an article about pace; a metaphor. I’m “free to leave,” hmmmm? What if I want to stick around and insist that every article be relevant? What if I’m sad that Jeff Sullivan is wasting, wasting his time? You’re in your twenties, Jeff Sullivan, but soon you will be in your nineties, and I will be in my one-hundred-and-tenties, and what about everyone else?? Do you realize how many people will be dead? “Free to leave,” bark bark bark bark.

Max
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Max
2 years 11 months ago

Sorry I’m late, but it does seem that my walk has gotten rather sillier as of late.

rockymountainhigh
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rockymountainhigh
2 years 11 months ago

Check out the college world series for baseball played at a great pace. I usually watch MLB games on DVR delay and skip forward between the pitches. I think the skip forward is 25 seconds and it usually hits the next pitch perfect.

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