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  • The existence of preventable down time between pitches is on the rise and causing a huge problem for baseball.
By Tom Verducci
June 08, 2017

Here’s a troubling stat for a game that knows it has a pace of action problem: the average time between pitches this year has gone up by a full second, from 22.7 to 23.7, according to Fangraphs data. It may not sound like much, until you realize the context.

There are 298 pitches in the average game, which means players have added five minutes of pure dead time per game this year.

Now consider how much dead time they’ve added in just 10 years. The average game in 2007 included 293 pitches and 21.5 seconds between them.

Bottom line: Players have added 12 minutes, 42 seconds in pure dead time to the average game in just a decade, with every indication that the trend is only getting worse.

Catchers walking to the mound every time a runner gets to second base has become routine. Relief pitchers studying their next pitch as if preparing for surgery have become common. High velocity, max-effort pitchers taking reposes between pitches have become standard.

We can talk all we want about the growth of Three True Outcomes (home runs, walks and strikeouts), eight-man bullpens, replay, intentional walks and other elements of strategy and play, but nothing significant will be done about pace of action until baseball addresses the growing dawdling between pitches. The answer is simple: a pitch clock.

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Even before he got shelled by the Red Sox on Tuesday night, giving up five hits (including three home runs) and five runs in five innings, the Yankees seemed to have trouble figuring out why Masahiro Tanaka has been having trouble getting hitters out. Here’s a clue: The release point on his splitter gradually has dropped four inches in two years, leaving what had been one of the great putaway pitches in baseball flat and hittable.

Entering Tuesday's start Tanaka had allowed more home runs on splitters in two months this year (four) than in any of his first three seasons with the Yankees. The slugging percentage against the pitch has risen from .233 last year to .484 this year. The home run hit by Boston's Hanley Ramirez came on a splitter.

A split without sink and/or fade is one of the ripest pitches to hit for a home run—it becomes essentially a hanging changeup. Tanaka is throwing too many flat splitters, even in those two-strike counts when it was his favorite weapon. Last year hitters batted .081 against his two-strike splitter. This year they’re hitting .143 against the pitch.

When Tanaka pitches again on Sunday against the Orioles in the Bronx, keep an eye on his split. You’ll know he’s back on track if he can get two-strike swings and misses on splits that dive under the batters’ swings.

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What’s wrong with Hanley Ramirez? While trying to replace David Ortiz as the Boston DH, one of the best up-the-middle hitters in baseball has become pull happy. This says it all about why he’s hitting just .247, his percentage of hits by field:

Year

Pull

Center

Opposite

2016

26%

53%

21%

2017

53%

35%

12%

He has more than doubled his percentage of hits to leftfield. And that vintage Hanley homer—the line drive home run to dead centerfield – is missing. Last year Ramirez hit 17 of his 30 home runs to centerfield. This year, just one of his eight have gone to straightaway center.

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