On the heels of a stupid flare-up between the Red Sox and Rays, Tim Kurkjian at ESPN.com wrote a winding-but-worthwhile piece about the fluid nature of unwritten rules. There are a number of White Sox ties -- Adam Dunn has opinions, and there are stories of Ed Farmer and Gavin Floyd doling out justice, but let's take a tangent from the section about sloths:
[C.J.] Wilson says, "It's ridiculous how long it takes guys to get in the box, or pitchers to throw the ball. Guys on their own team yell at them, in very colorful language. 'Get in the box! Throw the ball!' Some guys are serial line-steppers; they are habitual line-steppers. That's how they get the reputation as a rain delay. What I love is the pitcher who has two pitches, and he shakes off the catcher five times. We yell, 'Pick one!' But really, the guy at the plate digs a hole, adjusts his helmet, wiggles his butt, swings the bat, adjusts his wristbands? You wonder, 'What were you doing all that time in the on-deck circle?'"
When you think of such dawdlers on the Sox, Paul Konerko comes to mind. After the pitch comes in, the reverse lights come on. He backs out, tucks his bat into his arm pit, refastens and moistens his gloves. Bat back in hands, he steps in with one foot, takes a half-swing, adjusts his helmet, brings the other foot in, stretches out his back, and finally his checklist is complete. And that's when he doesn't swing.
Sure enough, when you look at the pace stat for White Sox hitters on FanGraphs, Konerko takes more time than anybody -- a languorous 26.6 seconds, to be accurate. On the flip side, Dunn needs the least time between pitches, a commendable 21.9 seconds.
You'd expect Dunn to be one of the quicker hitters, though, because he swings less than any Sox hitter. The above example notwithstanding, fewer swings means fewer manual adjustments. So instead, let's take a look at Marcus Semien -- he's more aggressive than Dunn, but at 22.3 seconds, he's within a rounding error of the same pace.
Here's a good example of Semien keeping the tempo lively, even after a healthy cut:
When he takes a pitch, he backs out, regrips and steps back in. When he takes a big rip, he needs a little longer to gather himself, but he multitasks by fixing his equipment while circling back. He's Exhibit A in the defense of batting gloves in the debate about baseball's pace problem.
Exhibit B? Conor Gillaspie, who doesn't wear them.
Thanks to his hot start, he's commanding more attention everywhere -- here, Minor League Ball and Beyond the Box Score, for starters. In the process of turning his at-bats into appointment viewing, you start to notice things that passed without mention during an unremarkable rookie season.
At 26 seconds, Gillaspie is the second slowest hitter behind Konerko, requiring roughly four more seconds than Semien or Dunn. Here he is making the rapid-firing T.J. House wait on him here:
"Sure, that's leisurely," you're saying. "But isn't every hitter slower after a swing, Officer Stopwatch? Especially when he fouls one off?"
"'Officer Stopwatch?' Where did that come from?" I ask. But realizing I don't really care about the answer, I continue by showing you Gillaspie after he doesn't swing, interrupted by a bored House:
What's funny is that this situation is conducive to the shortest possible time between pitches. House is the Indians' most expeditious starter. The bases are empty, so House doesn't have to check runners, and Gillaspie doesn't have to look for signs. And it's the first inning, so there isn't anything extra riding on the outcome of this at-bat. Still, Gillaspie used 19 seconds after a take, whereas Semien needed 13.5 seconds after a swing.
And when the stakes are higher -- say, the eighth inning with a more laborious reliever on the mound and the go-ahead run on first -- he's up to 28.5 seconds after a take, and 36 seconds after a swing and a miss. I can use every frame of video for a Semien GIF, but by the time Gillaspie is done fixing his pants, preparing his hands and controlling his dry heaves, I'm using every fifth frame to keep the file size respectable.
Of course, when he ends the interim period with a perfect hit-and-run single to put the winning run 90 feet away and raise his average to .352, it's easier to accept it as the bulldup before the payoff, and chalk it up as part of his growing charm.