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Commission the Ray Searage statue … and the game’s pace problem

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SOUTH HILLS – One of the most interesting developments this April, for me, is this number: 1.7. That’s Edinson Volquez’s walk rate.

It’s too early to know if Volquez has truly been fixed.  We only have a 21-inning sample size. But I’m also not sure Volquez has had a stretch of control like this since his All-Star rookie year, or perhaps ever.

Volque’z walk rates the last four seasons:

2010: 5.03

2011: 5.38

2012: 5.17

2013: 4.07

His career walk rate is one of the worst among active pitchers at 4.68.

Despite all that, the Pirates saw a pitcher with a wipeout changeup (11 percent whiff rate with the pitch for his career), a solid curveball and above-average fastball velocity this offseason. If they could fix one element – his fastball command – they thought they might have Liriano 2.0. So gambled $5 million.

The Pirates were in large part willing to make the gamble because they knew they had just the man who can fix faulty fastball command in Ray Searage.

Searage improved the command of both Liriano and A.J. Burnett in back-to-back seasons. He and Jim Benedict had helped Charlie Morton with his throwing motion, allowing him to discover his effective two-seam fastball. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli rebounded under Searage.

Now, Volquez was thought to be Searage’s biggest challenge to date as he’s had little success since his rookie seasons. Three straight seasons of 5+ walk rates seems to speak of a pitcher who will never be able to command the strike zone.

Searage worked with Volquez on a more direct path to home plate this spring, which we have documented before. The primary goal was to eliminate movement in regard to his eyes. It seems to be working. And let’s remember it’s not just the message with Searage it’s how he communicates the message.

“Maybe it’s because I have empathy,” Searage said this March. “I’ve been in their shoes. That’s what I think it is. … I don’t want these guy to go through the same things I went through. I want them to keep their identities. It’s not like I went to school or anything to study for it, it just evolved over time.”

For his career Volquez throws first-pitch, non-swinging strikes at a 32 percent rate with this sinker. This year that rate has spiked to 52 percent.

Take a look at these tables from Brooks Baseball Brooks Baseball:

All Pitch Outcomes – from 03/30/2007 to 04/18/2014

Pitch Type Count Ball Strike Swing Foul Whiffs BIP GB LD FB PU HR
Fourseam 3851 37.21% 28.90% 39.73% 16.65% 7.43% 16.26% 6.60% 2.78% 5.45% 1.43% 0.81%
Sinker 3874 38.46% 23.77% 42.77% 17.73% 6.27% 19.18% 9.55% 4.39% 4.52% 0.72% 0.62%
Change 3672 37.69% 31.35% 49.73% 14.73% 19.39% 15.85% 8.09% 3.49% 3.49% 0.79% 0.60%
Curve 2818 43.75% 33.50% 32.97% 10.01% 11.04% 12.10% 6.99% 2.48% 2.24% 0.39% 0.21%

All Pitch Outcomes – from 01/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type Count Ball Strike Swing Foul Whiffs BIP GB LD FB PU HR
Fourseam 29 20.69% 34.48% 48.28% 17.24% 6.90% 24.14% 13.79% 3.45% 6.90% 0.00% 3.45%
Sinker 105 24.76% 33.33% 42.86% 20.00% 3.81% 20.95% 9.52% 8.57% 2.86% 0.00% 0.00%
Change 55 38.18% 20.00% 50.91% 21.82% 14.55% 20.00% 9.09% 5.45% 3.64% 1.82% 0.00%
Curve 85 36.47% 25.88% 52.94% 10.59% 16.47% 25.88% 14.12% 2.35% 8.24% 1.18% 0.00%

Volquez, as you can see above, is throwing his fastball for a higher percentage of strikes as a Pirate, though his command with his offspeed pitches has not been quite as good early this season.

Still, it’s about the fastball and Volquez’s April is one of the most encouraging things to date for the Pirates.

(Another encouraging thing is Pedro Alvarez now has as many opposite-field home runs – 3 – as he did all of last season).

DOES BASEBALL NEED A PACEMAKER?

Some interesting research from over at Baseball Prospectus regarding the sport’s pace problem. As you can see from the chart below the pace (seconds between pitches) and overall time of the game continues to increase. Moreover, strikeouts are on the rise, meaning total pitches are on the rise.

Year Pace (s) Time of Game (min)
2010 20.34 174.8
2011 20.38 176.6
2012 21.05 180.2
2013 21.19 184.2
2014 21.17 187.2

I don’t have a problem with limited instant replay. My biggest concern is not the interpretation of rules – this will get eventually be ironed out – my concern was with pace of the game. Replay adds several additions stopages to the flow of the game. There is already too much standing around, too much walking around the mound and stepping out of the batter’s box in the sport.

I’d like to see the batter’s box treated more like a box. Once a batter steps in, he cannot step out,  unless he receives time from an umpire as a pitcher waits obnoxiously long between pitches. So would end the practice swings between every pitch. A routine. I seriously doubt has much impact upon success.

Baseball does have a pace problem and it’s something that the sport would be wise to address.

- TS

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Comments

  1. As an umpire, high school and college players (as well as youth leagues) are required to keep one foot in the batters box and there is a 20 second limit between pitches. I can’t figure out why this cannot be used in the pro ranks.

  2. Nate83 says:

    I honestly don’t think it’s hardly ever the pitcher waiting on the hitter. It almost always seems like the hitter waiting on the pitcher. A reliever getting a bunch of warm up pitches seems to be a useless part of the game to me. The guy just completed a bunch of pitches out in the bullpen.

    There is no reason for a pitcher to walk around the mound and pick up the rosin bag after every pitch. I know when I play baseball on the gaming system with my son I average about 2 seconds between pitches maybe 3 tops. Unless there is some trash talking which then it could be a few minutes. I don’t understand why this is so difficult. If I can do it surely these elite athletes should be able to.

  3. Andrew says:

    There are a pace of play rules, pitchers are supposed to have 12 seconds between pitches with no one on base, it used to be 20. However they are not enforced.

  4. Andrew says:

    Maybe Ray has been spending too much time with Volquez because the other starters seem broke.

    Seriously, good stuff on Volquez, I’ll add he has the highest first pitch strike percentage of his career 59.8%, some six percentage points above is career average, that will help kill walks. His whiff rate is down overall as are the Ks, but it is only 82 batters faced. Of note his BABIP is .234 so I wouldn’t order the statute just yet.

    Let us see if Pirates’ starters can keep some more flyballs in the park.

  5. NorthPirateFan says:

    I think we saw yet more examples last night of how the replay is actually going to increase the pace and Bob Walk pointed one out … how many instance have we seen so far where after a close play Hurdle was standing on the top step chomping at the bit to go on the field and jabber away at umps about how they blew a call in his estimation only to see him shut down by the video people?

    Not just Hurdle of course but managers in general … sure there are some kinks to work out in the process but how much time will be saved by putting and end to the delays as managers, not one of which has ever gotten a call reversed, argue calls they don’t like versus the time it takes to actually go to the video?

    Frankly, judging by what I’ve seen of the some of balls and strikes calling so far this year compared to the pitch tracking results I’m starting to warm to the idea of removing umps from the game altogether and replace them with technology.

    Judging by what we’ve seen so far it looks like it’s going to be a lot.

  6. NMR says:

    Yeah, the Brewers top 5 knocked Volquez around pretty well last night. Lasers.

    Kudos to him, though, for shutting down the bottom of the order and not allowing walks to prolong innings.

    And that Brewers top 5 of Gomez, Segura, Braun, Ramirez, and Lucroy is gonna stack up with any in the Division, maybe league.

  7. NMR says:

    Well said, North. Managers have already learned to take advantage of the system by delaying games as you’ve explained.

    This has to stop.

  8. NMR says:

    As for Volquez and Searage, I still don’t think we can say they’ve improved his command. Nor have they improved Liriano’s, for that matter.

    Edinson’s control has certainly improved, and that is absolutely step one, but fact is that the highest percentage of his pitches in the strike zone have landed smack dab in the middle.

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/profile.php?player=450172&time=month&minmax=ci&var=count&s_type=2&endDate=04/18/2014&startDate=04/01/2014

    The fact that he hasn’t been bombed yet is a compliment to his pure stuff, but we shouldn’t pretend this guy has Liriano-like pitches. Hitters will adjust.

    Regardless, the goalposts of success are now speeding in the right direction. Now easy to see this guy as a productive member of the rotation, with the potential to really open up in the second half.

  9. piratemike says:

    What bugs me is when a hitter goes for a leisurely stroll halfway to the dugout after a pitch.
    Jack Wilson used to do that all the time and I’d shout at the T.V. “Where ya going Jack?”
    There are a lot of players who do it but I guess Wilson really bugged me because he was such a lousey hitter at that point of his career.

  10. NMR says:

    Oh, and GREAT use of data, Travis! Really neat stuff.

  11. Jim S. says:

    Problem solved. Enforce.

  12. Jim S. says:

    Your trigger thumb will be falling off by June if this keeps up, Nate.

  13. Jim S. says:

    Boy, if he really can walk 2 less guys per nine, and knock the hits down a little, induce a few more groundballs, with Cutch/Marte/Polanco chasing balls down in the outfield by June, this could be a decent year from him. Only about 27 more starts to go!

  14. Jim S. says:

    I was ok with replay being added. I know it takes time for these things to be refined, and I accept that. But, some of these decisions they come up with are what has me alternatively scratching and shaking my head. There’s nothing worse than an obviously correct call being overturned – or, an obviously incorrect call being allowed to stand. That makes me doubt the judgment of the ump on every other call.

  15. Nate83 says:

    I actually think video games is what ended Joel Zumaya career. Is it OK to mention the Tigers bullpen or is it still too soon?

  16. Nate83 says:

    I love Jack Wilson but the at that point of his career part could have been left off because at no point in his career was he a good hitter. It could have just read “Wilson really bugged me because he was such a lousey hitter” :)

  17. Jim S. says:

    You’re picking at the scab. Not quite healed.

  18. Jim S. says:

    That’s eye opening. You said he was catching the fat part of the strike zone a lot.

  19. NMR says:

    And I’ll be holding my breath for each one!

  20. NMR says:

    No kidding, right? Umps have somehow found a way to make themselves look worse.

  21. jm says:

    As far as pace of the game is concerned, permitting pitchers 8 warm up pitches between innings is absurd. If you want to keep warm, throw behind the dugout, which have (I think) enough room to throw. Limit it to three. TV won’t go along since commercials’ time would suffer.

  22. piratemike says:

    Nate83…2004 Jack Wilson………BA .308..12 triples …41 2b… 11hr,,,,201 hits…
    With 201 hits first Pirates player since Dave Parker & first SS since Wagner (1908) .
    also first Pirates player to collect 10 or more 2b ..3b…HR… since Andy Van Slyke (1992)
    2007 …. .296 ….12 HR.
    I too thought about just saying that he was a lousey hitter but I knew that he had some good yrs too and somebody would bring them up so I got ahead of the curve. lol

  23. Steelkings says:

    I say we institute a shot clock. Heck, we could simplyput a clock on the game. 2 hrs 30 min. Last 30 minutes no one could buy beer.

    Or

    We could get rid of instant replay

 
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