Michael Bourn, Carlos Pena, And Fun With Batter Pace

MIAMI GARDENS, FL: Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves strikes out against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

In this post, we explore the world of batter tempo, which might be the area in which Michael Bourn and Carlos Pena are least alike. Or it might not be that area.

PITCHfx is neat. You're probably familiar with PITCHfx, even if you didn't know it. PITCHfx is what's responsible for the pitch velocity and movement information you see in MLB Gameday. PITCHfx is also responsible for a lot of other information. PITCHfx tracks pretty much every pitch in the major leagues, and it's done so since 2008.

Every pitch in PITCHfx comes with a timestamp. Ordinarily this timestamp is of little analytical use, unless you're interested in a pitcher's pace. That is, the amount of time that a pitcher takes in between pitches. We all know that there are slow pitchers, fast pitchers and Mark Buehrle. PITCHfx allows us to quantify the differences.

Not all that long ago, FanGraphs started providing pitcher pace information. I thought this was fairly common knowledge, but maybe it wasn't, since it turns out my co-writers were unaware. Looking over the pitcher pace leaderboards reveals some information you could've guessed, and some information you probably couldn't. Buehrle is super fast. Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Betancourt are super slow. Garrett Olson is neither.

But it stands to reason that, where there are pitcher pace leaderboards, there are also batter pace leaderboards. And indeed, there they are, tucked away on FanGraphs. It's the same data, just split in a different way, so why not provide it, right? Batters get less attention for their tempo than pitchers do, which makes sense, given that it's ultimately the pitchers who are in control. But batters still have some influence over the pace of an at bat, so it's worth a quick investigation into the numbers.

I set the leaderboard to show all data from between 2008-2011. I then set a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances to avoid potential sample-size issues, even though 1,000 plate appearances is certainly way higher than I need. This gave me a player pool of 298 batters.

The five (six) fastest paces?

(1) Michael Bourn, 18.7 seconds between pitches
(2) Chris Getz, 19.2
(3) Ichiro, 19.3
(4t) Nyjer Morgan, 19.4
(4t) David Eckstein, 19.4
(4t) Maicer Izturis, 19.4

The five slowest paces?

(1) Carlos Pena, 27.6 seconds between pitches
(2) Manny Ramirez, 26.0
(3) Robinson Cano, 25.6
(4) Ryan Braun, 25.5
(5) Reed Johnson, 25.4

Regarding whether or not there's anything repeatable here, Bourn's paces over each of the four seasons were 19.0, 18.7, 18.8 and 18.6. Pena's paces over each of the four seasons were 27.6, 27.0, 27.4 and 28.4. These examples don't prove anything, but they do strongly suggest some things.

So those are the extremes, and that's the spread. What I want to focus on now are Bourn and Pena, since they stand out from the rest of the pack. Bourn's pace is half a second faster than the runner-up. Pena's pace is more than one and a half seconds slower than the runner-up. I went to the footage and found what I consider to be representative intervals between pitches to Michael Bourn and Carlos Pena. I did not do a thorough search and both of the following .gifs come from the same series. How do these guys influence the pace?

Bourn:

Bourn3

Pena:

Pena3

I'm sorry that those .gifs were so slow to load. They are, out of necessity, long .gifs. As they were loading, you had time to reflect upon the fact that you were waiting to watch .gifs of batters in between pitches. These are probably two of the worst .gifs ever made.

Bourn never drifts far from the box. He steps out, briefly, then he steps right back in, ready. Pena, meanwhile, steps further from the box, then digs, swings, adjusts his clothing, and God knows what else while the camera isn't looking at him. It isn't a substantial delay, but it's a delay.

Interestingly, who comes to mind when you think of a batter who slows down the pace? Nomar Garciaparra, right? It's Nomar Garciaparra. We have two years of data on Nomar. Between 2008-2009, Nomar's pace was a little under 21 seconds. A bit faster than average. What!

Now, pace is influenced by things like two-strike counts and at bats with runners on. Pitchers slow down in two-strike counts and when there are runners on, so Carlos Pena's "natural" pace isn't this exceptional, and neither is Michael Bourn's. But I'm not looking for true-talent pace, here; I'm looking for general pace, and Pena has had a slow pace, while Bourn has had a fast pace.

Since 2008, Bourn has averaged 4.0 pitches per plate appearance, and Pena has also averaged 4.0 pitches per plate appearance (there is a slight difference, in the hundredths). Bourn's average plate appearance has lasted 55.7 seconds, while Pena's average plate appearance has lasted 83.7 seconds. Using those averages, since 2008, Bourn has batted for about 39 hours while Pena has batted for about 55 hours, and Bourn even has a 154-plate appearance advantage. This is one of those things that is really incredible and really irrelevant at the same time. Statistics!

So anyway, consider this something of an introduction to batter pace. Go play around for yourself. You might learn something. And if you don't, at least you're on the Internet. To think, there are people who aren't on the Internet.

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