This past weekend was dominated by football, which was to be expected. That didn’t stop Rob Manfred from chiming in on baseball’s pace of play issues once again, though. It’s become abundantly clear since he became commissioner that this is going to be one of the most important issues on his agenda year after year. Whether you like it or not, it will be an ongoing topic around the sport for the foreseeable future until they solve it. It might not seem like such a big deal to me or you, as people who regularly watch the sport. However, anecdotally I can back up the claims that casual fans say the game moves too slowly, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The league is obviously a business, and Manfred is the head of the business. He’s trying to get as many new customers as possible and, in turn, make as much money as possible.
So, as long as we acknowledge that there is a problem — or an issue, or whatever you want to call it — we also have to acknowledge the Red Sox are a big part of said problem. If we just look at game time, it’s clear enough. They consistently play some of the longest games of any team in the league. All of the jokes about never-ending Red Sox-Yankees games exist for a reason. It’s not just about straight-up game time, either. Long games can be the most exciting games in the sport. The key word in the pace of play arguments in “pace.”
If you ask a casual fan — or any sports fan who doesn’t like baseball — why they don’t enjoy the game more, the most common response you’re likely to get is that there is too much down time between pitches. It is in this area that the Red Sox are the biggest offenders. Last season, Boston’s pitchers took longer between pitches than every other team in the league besides Arizona, with whom they were tied. This isn’t a new issue, either. The Red Sox were in the top ten of the league in terms of pace, per Fangraphs, in four of the last five years. The good news, for those who care about this sort of thing, is that they could be a much quicker pitching staff in the coming season.
The biggest reasoning behind this is that they are now rid of two of the slowest-working pitchers in all of baseball: Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa. Putting aside that they are two of my favorite Red Sox pitchers in recent memory, they can undoubtedly be brutal to watch at times. Over the last three years, only Joel Peralta worked more slowly than Tazawa while Buchholz was in the top 14 percent of slow workers. Now, they are the NL East’s problems.
On the other end of the spectrum, two of their newest pitchers are quick workers. Chris Sale was the sixth fastest worker among qualified pitchers in 2016, and would slot in as the quickest pitcher on Boston’s staff without much competition. The only Boston pitcher with a quicker pace than Sale last season was Ryan LaMarre, which...yeah. Tyler Thornburg isn’t quite that fast, but he does work quicker than the average pitcher.
Meanwhile, the back of the rotation should be relatively quick as well. In 2016, Boston’s quickest (real) pitcher was Steven Wright, and as of now it looks like he has an inside track for the final rotation spot. Drew Pomeranz is the favorite for the other spot, and he was the third-quickest worker. Eduardo Rodriguez, meanwhile, is a bit slower than average but would at least be an upgrade on Buchholz if he were to make the rotation.
The two biggest hurdles in this quest to move faster are David Price and Craig Kimbrel. For the former, well, there’s not much hope for change on that front. He’s always been on the slower side of things, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll change that. Kimbrel, on the other hand, slowed down to his slowest pace ever in 2016. He’s never been a particularly fast worker, but last season was a new extreme. Given the poor results that followed, it’s feasible that he’ll try to speed up a bit and get back to his more natural rhythm.
It goes without saying that the most important thing for every pitcher on the staff is to pitch well. This is a team with championship aspirations and the pitchers need to perform to their abilities regardless of how quickly they work. Still, this is a big topic around the league and the Red Sox are one of the biggest offenders. If they can pitch well, win, and do it all in quicker and more efficient fashion? Well, I certainly won’t complain about that.