Opinion

The Red Sox are perhaps the worst pace-of-play offenders in baseball

The 2018 Boston Red Sox and pace of play

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (July 1, 2018 – Source: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Major League Baseball has been actively trying to fix the issue of pace of play for years now. From limiting mound visits to the proposal of a pitch clock, the league is looking for a way to curtail the length of an average game. With its audience’s dwindling attention span, Commissioner Rob Manfred and Co. have no choice but to do so.

The ways to achieve this goal are widely debated and, at times, controversial. Some fans do not even see it as an issue in the first place, while others are adamant that something has to be done. Regardless of one’s view on the subject, it would be interesting to check on the Boston Red Sox and how they are doing with pace of play this season. Are they slower or faster than the average MLB team? Do their hitters or pitchers take longer between pitches? Which Red Sox players are the biggest offenders? These are the types of questions that will be answered right….now.

To follow through with this exercise, we will be using the Pace statistic courtesy of Pitch Info. Here is how it is calculated, according to Fangraphs.

“Pace is very straightforward. To calculate the pace for a PA, you take the difference between the first pitch of a PA and the last pitch and then divide by the number of pitches minus one. This essentially captures the average time between the pitches in the plate appearance and the average of these paces constitutes a player’s season Pace.”

Further down in the explanation of Pace, it is acknowledged that the calculation may be imperfect (not taking into account certain delays, slightly inaccurate Pitch F/X recording, etc.) but pretty close to being precise.

With that caveat out of the way, the Boston Red Sox hitters have averaged the longest time between pitches compared to every other team in 2018. Their offense features a sluggish 25.4 seconds between pitches, with the Houston Astros as the closest to them at 24.9 seconds. Boston’s offense led in this category last year, as well, but were very marginally quicker at 25.3 seconds per pitch.

While hitters have some control over this process, it seems pitchers are the most responsible for this aspect of pace of play. It is not apparent if Boston’s batters take longer to set themselves at the plate or if opposing pitchers are actively trying to slow the tempo against their formidable offense. It is probably a blend of these two things, with the former having more to do with it than the latter.

The average time between pitches in the MLB this season is 24.0 seconds. If one has spent any time watching the Red Sox play baseball games and then has watched other teams play, you should kind of get a sense that Boston’s games tend to last longer than other teams. In fact, as far as I can remember the Red Sox have had a reputation of being one of the most egregious pace of play offenders in the sport. Throwback to Josh Beckett.

Anyway, J.D. Martinez ranks 6th in baseball among qualifiers with 27.5 seconds between pitches. That is an outrageous amount of time but whatever he is doing is working for him, so let’s refrain from saying anything more. However, if we move the qualification to an arbitrary 40 plate appearances, Martinez is not the team leader in Pace anymore.

Former Boston Red Sox Hanley Ramirez would take that crown with an insane 29.0 seconds per pitch. Meanwhile, Christian Vazquez is second at 28.7 seconds between pitches, which is considerably longer than Martinez.

On the other side of the spectrum, Mookie Betts is the fastest at seeing the next pitch on the squad. He ranks in the lower percentile of hitters at 23.2 seconds.

Moving on, Red Sox pitchers have taken just as much time as the hitters have at 25.4 seconds between pitches. With that said, they are not the leader in this category. The Los Angeles Dodgers actually hold that honorary distinction with 25.5 seconds per pitch, edging the Sox by just 0.1. Fortunately, there is still a lot of time for the team to catch the Dodgers.

Boston’s relievers actually contribute to this number more than their starters. Their bullpen has taken 26.9 seconds per pitch (2nd in MLB) while their rotation has taken 24.5 seconds per pitch (6th in MLB). To be fair, relievers take more time between pitches than starters in general, but their respective ranking in the league is somewhat telling.

The Sox bullpen has three members in the top-25 (among qualified relievers) in time between pitches. Those three are Joe Kelly (31.2 sec., 2nd in MLB), Matt Barnes (29.0 sec., 11th in MLB) and Craig Kimbrel (28.1 sec., 24th in MLB). Kelly is actually tied for the slowest time with Bud Norris in baseball but is listed below him. Norris is probably slower to the decimal, but they are the same when rounded to a nice, shinny number like 31.2.

Funny enough, these are the team’s three best relievers this season. Coincidence?

Yes, most likely. Numerous studies have been done and there is no relationship between Pace and performance. Granted, there is most certainly some strategy to tempo and certain pitchers likely gain some sort of advantage with their pace. Baseball is a game of timing, after all.

In the rotation, the Red Sox have the MLB leader among qualified starters in pace of play. David Price‘s 27.6 seconds between pitches is first in baseball and fellow rotation-mate Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind at 26.1 seconds (6th in baseball). In contrast, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello are faster than the average pitcher, so they balance each other out a bit.

Overall, the 2018 Boston Red Sox are the slowest team by combined pace of play (batting plus pitching Pace). They take an incredibly long time between pitches, which does not mean much other than they take a long time. This does not really have any discerning affect on performance but just adds to the length of the game. Inevitably, there will be a pitch clock implemented, which would probably mean more for the Red Sox (assuming the composition of the team is similar) than most teams.

Expect the 2019 or 2020 Red Sox’ games to be shortened by a couple of minutes. Otherwise, I suppose just be thankful that the Red Sox do not have a rotation with Josh Beckett and David Price in it at the same time.

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