Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

Country Joe sings the blues


From the “In case you missed it” file: umpire Joe West is calling out the Yankees and Red Sox for playing too slow. You can listen to the full link on ESPN.com here – http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=5067225

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.” [emphasis mine]

I may not be a genius, but this sure looks like sour grapes to me. In case you’ve never heard of “Country Joe” West, he is noted as an umpire who (a) gets some rather obvious calls wrong and (b) has a girth comparable to the Hindenberg. I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s missed many meals – except for dinner this weekend, which is where I suspect his tirade originated. But in the quest for fairness – an alien concept to most ML umpires, I admit – I decided to investigate further. Do Yankees/Red Sox games take longer than the average game? And if so, are they playing at a “pathetic and embarrassing” pace or is some other factor the culprit?

I decided the best way to tackle the question of pace was to determine how long each pitch interval is. That is, how long is it taking (on average) for the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter? Do determine this, I tallied the total number of pitches thrown, the total number of batters and how long the games took. There are some things I can’t account for, because they don’t show up in a box score (like pick-off attempts) that will also affect the pace, but those factors will likely cancel each other out so long as we’re comparing the same types of games. A little investigating quickly found that no two other teams were able to put up total pitches thrown and plate appearances, so I chose to take the Orioles/Rays and Rangers/Blue Jays series to use for comparison.

So, here’s the data I compiled using the box scores for the games:

Yankees / Red Sox
Date Batters Pitching Changes Total Pitches Total Time
4-Apr 83 6 308 208
6-Apr 79 10 333 206
7-Apr 91 9 326 190
3 gm avg 84.33 8.33 322.33 201.33
Orioles / Rays / Rangers / Blue Jays
Date Batters Pitching Changes Total Pitches Total Time
5-Apr 70 5 267 156
6-Apr 78 7 302 182
7-Apr 154 9 546 323
4 gm avg 75.5 5.25 278.75 165.25


So, if you take just a cursory look you’ll see that Yankee/Red Sox games take about 36 minutes longer to complete than our comparison sample. So maybe, Joe has a reason for being upset about missing his evening enchiladas. Except…well, the game in Boston also saw more plate appearances (9) and more pitches (43.5) than the games in either Arlington or Tampa. But do those increases justify the extra 36 minutes per game?

The only way to find out is to divide the time of game by total pitches thrown. Let’s create a new stat for this and call it “Country Time” in honor of our favorite umpire. Doing that, you get

Yankees/Red Sox: .624 CT

The others: .593 CT

For those of us still in the real world, the “pace” of the Yankees/Sox game was one pitch every 37.5 seconds. The pace for our comparison sample of Orioles, Blue Jays, Rangers and Rays was one pitch every 35.6 seconds. So, yes, the Yankees and Red Sox did play at a slower pace than their contemporaries, but by less than2 seconds per pitch. My guess is takes Joe West longer than two seconds to form a thought. Over three hours, two seconds difference becomes statistically insignificant.

So why the huge discrepancy in game times? And let’s face it, Joe may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but unfortunately there are a lot of people who happen to agree with him. They just think Yankee – Red Sox games are moving at a glacial pace compared to the rest of the league.

Well, it comes down to this basic fact: these are the two best teams in baseball. (Sorry to all my friends in Kansas City, but the truth hurts). In those other games, the average hitter saw 3.69 pitches per PA, the typical Yankees/Sox hitter saw 3.82. The Yankees/Sox games also featured an average of 9 more PA than the other games – in other words, each game typically saw more 9 more men reach base than the O’s/Rays/Rangers/Jays.

One more thing to consider regarding game times: pitching changes. As you can see above (Joe, you’re reading this, you can borrow my glasses) the Yanks and Sox combined for 3.3 more pitching changes per game. Since each change means the manager walking to the mound, the fresh meat jogging in from the outfield and then taking his warm-ups, we can pretty much safely assume a pitching change will take a lot longer than .31 CT. I think we can also assume that odds are that the CT for Yankees/Sox games is probably less than our comparison sampling. So much for Joe West and his pace issue. It seems that old truism – more AB’s + more BB’s + more runs = longer games is holding true statistically, as well.

Which brings me back to my point about the state of umpiring in MLB. Joe and his crew missed at least 5 blatantly reversible calls during the three games. The strike zones were equally atrocious (see this link for a sample graph, thanks to my friends at YFSF for compiling it). In short Joe, (or maybe in breadth?), get with the program, lay off the between inning hot dogs and start concentrating on your job.

Or better yet: just retire.

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