Let’s go ahead and get one thing clear up front: nobody thinks about pitcher pace, firstly. Firstly, one always thinks about pitcher performance, and then after that come the various watchability factors. What matters most is that a pitcher is good, and when a pitcher is consistently effective, nobody really cares how he gets it done, so long as he does. But pitcher pace lurks in the background, and when a guy isn’t effective, a slow tempo won’t score him any points. One tolerates a slow pitcher when the slow pitcher helps. One quickly runs out of patience when a slow pitcher hurts.
Slow and bad — it’s the worst of the four boxes to occupy. Of course, there’s some relationship, as pitchers tend to work slower with runners on base, and bad pitchers have more runners on base. There’s more to think about, more people to pay attention to, more importance behind every delivery. But when Mark Buehrle sucks, he still sucks quickly. Not everyone is Mark Buehrle, and this is how we get to talking about Mike Pelfrey.
Pelfrey was signed as a free agent by the Twins, and so far he’s been bad. He’s struck out four of 56 batters, and he’s allowed a .400 OBP. Naturally, it’s still early, and all that jazz, but Pelfrey’s on a short contract and he’s made a bad first impression. Also, Pelfrey’s been slow. No pitcher in baseball’s been slower. This is, as noted before, the wrong box.
But I’m not writing this just because Mike Pelfrey has been slow. I’m writing this because Mike Pelfrey has been unusually slow, even for himself. You’d expect something like pitcher pace to stabilize quickly, because it’s mostly up to the pitcher how quickly he works and most pitchers have a certain tempo they like. So when you see a significant change, what it suggests is some sort of change within the pitcher.
I present to you Mike Pelfrey’s year by year pace:
2008: 21.0 seconds between pitches, on average
With the Mets, Pelfrey established himself as a guy who averaged about 21 seconds between every pitch. Sometimes he’d be faster, with no one on, and sometimes he’d be slower, with ducks on the pond, but he always hovered around the same point. Now look at where Pelfrey’s been through three starts with the Twins. He’s gotten slower by nearly a third.
No pitcher in baseball has a bigger pace difference between 2012 and 2013 than Mike Pelfrey. Matt Harvey has trimmed his pace the most, by 2.8 seconds. This is probably because Harvey doesn’t put people on base because he’s amazing. At the other end, four pitchers have gotten slower by just over three seconds. Blake Beavan has gotten slower by 4.3 seconds. And Mike Pelfrey has gotten slower by 6.4 seconds. Beavan has made some adjustments to his delivery that might explain the gain. Pelfrey’s just been standing around more.
You knew a .gif was coming, so here’s a .gif of Pelfrey standing around for a while, with nobody on base:
In three games, Pelfrey’s paces have been 26.8 seconds, 28.5 seconds, and 27.7 seconds. These are three of the four slowest-paced games of Pelfrey’s career, with only this disaster getting in the way. Kind of even more interesting is that Pelfrey’s pace was addressed in spring training, as the Twins wanted to speed him up. One excerpt:
“He got his innings in,” Gardenhire said. “He got his pitches in. Put it that way. He took forever. You have to have a pace in a game. He’s working on some things. … So you give a little bit of leeway, but you have a pace to the game. I think that’s why we had misplays, when you do that, just standing out there.”
Gardenhire noted that the club is still getting a feel for Tuesday’s starter Mike Pelfrey in terms of velocity, and how he works in different situations. “In the past he’s worked slow, but we’re trying to get the pace going a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “He really worked hard on that in his last outing.”
In the past maybe Pelfrey’s worked slow some of the time. Now Pelfrey seems to work slow all of the time, which is the opposite of what the Twins and Ron Gardenhire were hoping for. Granted, Pelfrey’s been in a lot of trouble. Granted, Pelfrey’s just getting going in this season, and he hasn’t yet settled into a groove. A fast tempo is probably a lot about pitcher comfort and confidence, and Pelfrey’s feeling his way around a new league on a new team with a new catcher.
And one does note that Pelfrey’s been throwing to Joe Mauer, which might be a factor. While Pelfrey’s slowed down the most, Vance Worley has slowed down the fourth-most, and he’s also a Minnesota newcomer. Another spring training excerpt:
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, taking notes during the game, wrote: ‘Worley, lots of balls up. Not many breakers early. Slow pace,’ among other things.
“It seemed like he was really searching for something out there,” Gardenhire said.
Maybe there’s something about pitchers being new to the Twins, although Kevin Correia hasn’t slowed down at all. Maybe it’s about pitchers feeling indecision. Maybe it’s about pitchers not having enough confidence. Or, in Pelfrey’s case, maybe it’s about the fact that Pelfrey is back off of Tommy John surgery. Maybe he’s a little more hesitant now, a little more cautious, and this is where that’s being observed. I don’t see an obvious reason for why this should be the case, but maybe it would be worth a quick look to see if Tommy John survivors slow down, at least initially. Sometimes events can have surprising consequences, consequences that don’t make immediate sense.
Here’s what we know: Mike Pelfrey has been unusually bad, and Mike Pelfrey has been unusually slow. The two are not unrelated, but if you’re looking for an early candidate for least watchable pitcher, Pelfrey might be your guy. He hasn’t done a thing to endear himself to the viewer, and because of the nature of his contract, the Twins aren’t likely to exercise limitless patience. Teams, like fans, eventually run out of it.