I rarely watch Athletics games on television, and it is a testament to the quality of our radio broadcast team how I never feel bored by the pace of play. In person, I am also usually content to enjoy the lulls at the typical game, but I do have one pace of play peeve. I despite my existence when batters leaving the box after taking a pitch. I yell, "Get back in the box!" at batters who leave the dirt entirely. A further delay will prompt me to shout, "You're the problem!"
One of the pace of play rule changes announced by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association today addresses this issue (and should save my voice) by implementing Rule 6.02(d), which requires batters to keep one foot in the batter's box throughout his turn at bat except in several reasonable circumstances, such as after the batter swings or either team calls for timeout. The rule previously applied only to minor league games. Today's announcement appears to note that the penalty for violation will not be a ball, but rather warnings and fines.
How do we measure who this will effect? Fangraphs calculates a "Pace" statistic using Pitch F/X timestamps:
The way I calculate Pace, is by taking the difference between the start time of the first pitch in the plate appearance, and the end time of the last pitch in the plate appearance. I then divide by the number of pitches in that plate appearance (minus 1). Pickoff attempts are considered just another pitch, since they don't have time stamps of their own. Anything that looks like a game delay between pitches is thrown out.
It's not perfect, because Pace does not have a split for bases empty situations, but it gives us a list of candidates for slowpokes and speedsters.
In 2014, the MLB average Pace was 23.0 seconds. Of the current players on the A's roster who had at least 200 plate appearances, only Coco Crisp had a higher average Pace. Here are the AL West players with at least 200 plate appearances, sorted into above and below average Pace.
|AL West active roster Pace, 2014 (min. 200 plate appearances)|
|MLB AVERAGE 23.0 SECONDS|
A's hitters who are used to exiting the box after taking a pitch will have to make a small adjustment, but only Coco Crisp is above the current MLB average. The rules seem to let players continue to do whatever else they want to reset themselves after taking a pitch, whether that's re-velcroing the gloves or tapping the shoes or whatever.
Let's compare one of the slowpokes of the AL West, Astros catcher Jason Castro, with Oakland's fastest, Sam Fuld. We're going to see how long it take from when the catcher receives the pitch to the batter being ready to accept the next one.
Here, Jason Castro does a couple of things that slows his progress to the next pitch. First, he shuffles the dirt in the box for a couple of seconds, then he takes three big steps out of the box. Then he edges closer and is entranced by the brand on his bat for a little while, and finally steps forward. After a few more bat waggles, Castro is ready, a full 16 seconds after Jaso receives the pitch.
Under the new rules, Castro would not be allowed to exit the box, though he can still do as much toe tapping and brand trances as he wants in the box. Even if the umpire is not directing the batter to be prepared, however, even cutting out the time it takes Castro to step out of and into the box could save significant time over the course of a game, combined with the other measures implemented.
Sam Fuld is in full compliance with the new rule. His routine, from catcher reception to ready to hit, is done in a flat 10 seconds.
Where does the time go?
Not all batter delays are the same, however. I started by looking at the AL West's new slowpoke, Rickie Weeks in Seattle, but he never leaves the box after taking a pitch. Weeks seemed to take quite a long time to recover from swinging at a pitch, though, compared to others.
Keep in mind also that I am just looking at what the batter does that can affect pace. The pitcher is far more in control over the pace of the game than the batter, as Ben Lindbergh points out in an article about pace of play last April for Baseball Prospectus. The fastest pitchers can even induce all hitters to get ready to hit faster, as Jeff Sullivan pointed out on Fangraphs last August, using Mark Buehrle as his exemplar. The only rule change directly affecting the pitcher, however, is the clock for returning from commercial breaks.
But as for the A's batters, I think there won't be too much of an issue there. It appears to be the rest of the West that should be concerned.