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St. Louis Cardinals: Is Pitcher Pace A Value-Adding Skill?

Michael Wacha St. Louis Cardinals

On Wednesday, Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs wondered if pace is value-adding skill for pitchers. His analysis focused on Mark Buerhle, in the news after the White Sox announced they will retire his number. Travis suggested that maybe by working quickly and trusting his catcher, Buerhle “was better able to focus on the execution of that pitch in that moment.”

It’s a common thought that pitchers who work at a faster pace keep their teammates more engaged. However, I’ve never seen that quantified. So, I set out to see if there are any relationships between pace and pitcher effectiveness.

The FanGraphs pace statistic goes back to 2007, which gives me ten seasons of data to analyze. I used a 100 IP minimum threshold, and calculated the correlations between a pitcher’s average pace for a season and various statistics. I included metrics that isolate the pitcher’s ability (like strikeout and walk rate), while others that depend on the defense behind him (like ERA and, to an extent, BABIP). Here were the preliminary results, using the 1,337 pitcher seasons that qualified for my search:

St. Louis Cardinals Pace

None of these correlations are particularly strong, but there are some that show an impact. Notably, both K% and BB% are positively correlated with Pace. This supports Travis’ claim that pitchers appear to spend more time trying to find the best pitch. When a pitcher executes the best pitches, he gets more strikeouts. When he doesn’t, he’s more likely to miss the zone (since he’s probably picking at the corners).

Additionally, BABIP is positively correlated with Pace. This supports the idea that fielders lose a little focus when there is more time between pitches. The result is an increasing differential between ERA and FIP (ERA-FIP). Essentially, pitchers are slightly more likely underperform their FIP if they take longer between pitches.

I decided to further break down the data to control for pitcher quality. I did this by converting FanGraphs WAR to WAR/200, which simply scales a pitcher’s WAR to 200 innings pitched. This allowed me to make a better apples-to-apples comparison to gauge in-game quality.

St. Louis Cardinals Pace

Interestingly, all groups of pitchers see an uptick in BABIP as Pace increases. Additionally, all groups strike out more batters when working at a slower pace, and two of the four bins walk more batters. This supports the findings from the original table. It is interesting, though, to note the differences in magnitude when controlling for pitcher ability.

For all of the four groups, FIP improves as when Pace increases. This is offset, at least in part, for the three bins with positive ERA-FIP correlations. Three of the four groups see an increase in HR/FB with higher Pace, with the exception being the pitchers worth less than one WAR per 200 innings. This group includes the least amount of pitchers by far (less than 200), so I’m not sure how much weight to put on the findings within this group.

I did not quantify the magnitude of the raw changes in any of these statistics. It looks like there’s an obvious tradeoff between the improvement to K% and the disimprovement to HR/FB and BABIP when it comes to pace.

I should also note that I did not run any significance testing to see if these correlation values were statistically significant, so the differences might very well be just random variation. It’s still interesting to see, and maybe there is something there.

I know this is a St. Louis Cardinals blog, so I apologize for running off on a tangent today. For what it’s worth, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake had the fastest pace among the five St. Louis starters with more than 50 innings. They also had the two highest ERA-FIP of the five starters last year, which is the opposite of what my analysis would have predicted. Small sample?

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