December 2, 2020

There’s Optimism Over Red Sox Newfound Mound Speed

March 30, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The guy I like best from Red Sox spring training is the guy who brought the stopwatch to the bullpen.

Maybe it was Manager John Farrell or Pitching Coach Juan Nieves. I don’t care. But someone brought the stopwatch as a teaching aid for Red Sox starting pitchers, and that person deserves a Duck Boat ride.

If you remember last season, you know that the Sox starters had a style all their own. They would throw the ball, glare in at the umpire, grimace, receive the ball being thrown back by the catcher as if it was bad news about a relative, and then make this other face that suggested maybe they had gas. Then the expression would shift, like they were being stoic, while also thinking really, really hard. Each pitch carried its own gravitas, though it was often gravitas thrown well wide of the strike zone.

The preparation and delivery of each pitch was like a play within a play, going on and on until the count ran to 3-1 and the starter threw one down the middle.

It was a great pace if you’re the kind of fan who likes to drive to the pizza shop between pitches, or read a novel, and now it’s gone.

The season starts Monday, and the pace of Red Sox pitchers is the best thing that’s happened this spring. Better than Jackie Bradley, Jr. Better than … well, better than Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Coming off a season that was great for off-field story lines and lousy in every other way, the Boston sports world is apathetic about the 2013 Sox. Perhaps because so little is expected of the Sox, or perhaps consultants are telling radio talkers that young listeners don’t care about baseball, there is less Sox talk. The most interesting question out of spring training is, “Who was Jackie Bradley, Sr., and why does he get to be kind of famous?”

Me? I’m an eternal optimist. I see professional hitters with some pop; an underrated bullpen that has improved; a team that hung in for awhile last year despite a million injuries, bad management, and awful starting pitching; and lots of young talent. I’m more optimistic for 2014 than 2013, but it is spring – why not think happy thoughts?

And here’s the best reason to be happy. Red Sox pitchers will get the ball and throw it. Then they get it again, and throw it again.

It’s weird, and wonderful.

When it comes to starting pitchers and spring training, the eye test is always more important than statistics. While the statistics have been good, the impressive thing is that when one looks at Red Sox starters, the eye detects movement. This has not always been the case, unless you’re including the movement of jogging to back up third base.

Last year, the Sox staff was the slowest in baseball throwing to home plate, averaging 24.7 seconds between pitches (according to an in-season study conducted by The Wall Street Journal). The New York Yankees were just behind them, and the two teams were the sloth leaders going back to 2007, one of the reasons why Sox-Yankees games move at the pace of my wife explaining something.

I suspect that studies on the effectiveness of pitchers working quickly would be inconclusive (the fastest-working staff in the WSJ study was the Cleveland Indians), but anecdotal evidence suggests that one benefit is that fielders stay alert and therefore play better defense. Also, it’s probably better for the pitchers’ cardio-vascular system. Anecdotal evidence further suggests that the quicker a pitcher works, the less likely I am to use curse words in my living room.

The Sox pitchers also seem to be throwing more strikes, which is a good thing, too. If the Sox starters work quickly and effectively, it could be a great year. But if they’re awful, it’s still nice that they’ve picked up the pace.

If this season is as bad as last season, at least it won’t last as long.

Dave Rattigan is an award-winning writer and co-host of View from the Lone Red Seat on the Seamheads Podcasting Network, heard live Tuesdays at 7 p.m. EST, with Chris Mascaro and Bob Lazzari.

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