Pace Yourself: The Relationship Between Pace and xFIP

This increasing time of games has been cited by Major League Baseball to be a deterrent to fans, jeopardizing ticket sales. Total game time has increased between 2.85 hours in 2004, rising to 3.13 hours in 2014. In 2015, MLB implemented rules to help speed up game time. These rules included forcing batters to stay in the batter’s box during at-bats, and decreasing the time between innings to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Back in April, after the first few weeks of the season had passed, MLB reported success on their initiatives, stating that if current paces were maintained, average game time would drop below the 2.92-hour mark for the first time since 2011.

A more dramatic possible change was to implement a pitch clock, forcing pitchers to throw their next pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball back from the catcher. Currently, the rulebook states (Rule 8.04) that pitchers should throw their next pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball from the catcher. However, this rule is not enforced. FanGraphs presents data on the time between pitches, called Pace, which is calculated by taking the total time in an at-bat, and dividing it by the number of total pitches. Between 2010 and 2014 (for pitchers who threw at least 50 MLB innings), the slowest pitchers were Jose Valverde in 2012 (32.4 seconds), Joel Peralta in 2012 (32.3 seconds), and Joel Peralta in 2014 (32.1 seconds). The fastest pitchers were Mark Buehrle in 2010 (16.4 seconds), Mark Buehrle in 2011 (15.9 seconds), and (drum roll please… ) Mark Buehrle in 2015 (15.9 seconds). However, what goes into a pitcher’s selected pace? Focus on execution of their pitch? Embracing the glow of the national spotlight? There hasn’t been much (if anything) to describe the relationship between a pitcher’s self-selected pace and pitching performance.

I looked at the average pace for all pitchers who threw a minimum of 50 innings in years 2010 through 2015. The time between pitches increased steadily between 2010 and 2014, rising from 21.9 seconds in 2010, to 23.5 seconds in 2014. In 2015, the influence of the new pace-of-play initiatives could be seen, with pace decreasing to an average of 22.2 seconds between pitch. Definitely a step in the right direction from MLB’s perspective, but how did this impact pitching performance?

Focusing on xFIP for all pitchers from the same cohort (a minimum of 50 IP), a trend existed for xFIP to decrease between years 2010 and 2014 – an inverse relationship compared to pitching pace. In 2010, the average xFIP was 3.98, compared to 3.60 in 2014. In 2015, xFIP increased to 3.84.

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Is this truly a reflection of pitchers requiring an extra second or two to steady themselves and prepare to throw their best possible pitch in a given situation – or are other factors in play? From a physiological perspective, reducing the time between physical efforts can result in an increased accumulation of muscle fatigue. A recent paper published in the journal of Sports Sciences by Wang and colleagues (2015) found pitchers in a fatigued state were less able to throw strikes. A possible explanation of this relationship is found between increased pitching pace and decreased xFIP.

Major League Baseball will surely press forward with what is best for the game, and the business of baseball. It would be worthwhile for coaches, pitchers, and player’s union representatives to further investigate how pitchers self-select their pace between pitches. Further work is required to establish if there are any negative health consequences associated with decreasing the time between pitches. This should be completely ruled out before any further initiatives are taken by the MLB to speed up the game of baseball.

 

References

Lin-Hwa Wang, Kuo-Cheng Lo, I-Ming Jou, Li-Chieh Kuo, Ta-Wei Tai & Fong- Chin Su (2015): The effects of forearm fatigue on baseball fastball pitching, with implications about elbow injury, Journal of Sports Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2015.1101481





Ergonomist (CCPE) and Injury Prevention researcher. I like science and baseball - the order depends on the day. Twitter: @DrMikeSonne

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CRPerry13
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CRPerry13

Nice post. A couple things to consider: xFIP is dependent on things like K’s, walks, and league HR/FB rate. 2015 is the first season in a long time (the first season since before 2010) in which the league-wide strikeout rate did not increase. Likewise, BB rate decreased steadily from 2010 to 2014 before seeing a bit of an increase in 2015. More pitcher walks + no increase in strikeouts = higher xFIP. This would argue in your favor because less pitch command (forearm fatigue?) would lead to fewer K’s and more BB’s, intuitively. Still probably inconclusive to say that Pace… Read more »