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Not all White Sox hitters need to get back in the box

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Adam Eaton objects to batter's box rule, but teammates may feel the squeeze more

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox beat writers surveyed three players about Major League Baseball's new pace of play initiatives, focusing on the requirement for hitters to stay in the batter's box. You're never going to believe how it breaks down:

  • The hitter is against it.
  • The pitcher is for it.
  • The catcher sees both sides.

Tyler Flowers, who is one of the White Sox's two union reps, didn't benefit from his pragmatic view of Rule 7.13 last year, but he's trying it again here. So let's take him out of the debate and see who wins between Adam Eaton (the other rep) and Chris Sale.

First, Eaton:

"I get you try to keep the fan base, I understand that, but the fan base understands this is a thinking man's game and when a pitcher steps on the rubber, there's a lot going on," Eaton said. "There's thinking in the dugout, there's thinking, manager, first-base coach, third-base coach, and that's the beauty of the game. Why speed that up?

"I'd hate in the World Series that we're trying to figure out what to pitch in a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and 'Oh man, the time clock is too much.' What is the game going to come to? It's been great for 120 years. But that's my opinion. I just work here and whatever the boss says is what I'll go by. If I need to keep my foot in the batter's box, I'll do it."

Then Sale:

"I like it," Sale said. "Get the ball and throw it. It’s pretty simple. I think it’s something that will be, people, this is a culture and generation of right now, people don’t feel like sitting through four hour games. We are not too fond of them either. Anything to pick up the pace and get it going will be good."

Verdict: Eaton overreaches and misplays the reductio ad absurdum card. His perspective would've been stronger if he stuck to romanticism, but even then, he left himself open to the counterpoint: "What, do players' brains work slower now?"

That said, seeing Sale speaking about "a generation of right now" after calling Bruce Levine "Negative Nancy" and dropping a "Miss Cleo" reference last month, I'm worried he might actually be 53 years old.

Star-divide

It could be worse for Eaton. At 3 hours and 8 minutes, the average game in 2014 took 17 minutes longer than the average game 10 years ago, and commercial time doesn't explain that away. It's even more concerning that the games took six minutes longer from 2013 to 2014.

GIven that Manfred floated more radical measures, these ones seem pretty close to natural. This one attacks the "slowness breeds slowness" theory, which is my best guess for why the entire league slowed down the last five years. Hitters blame pitchers, pitchers blame hitters, and instant replay threw managers and umpries into the mix. This seems like an attempt to reverse the flow, similar to a restaurant playing peppier music to get its patrons to eat faster and turn over more tables.

The other good news for Eaton: He shouldn't be that affected by it, at least the way other teammates may be. At 22.5 seconds, Eaton needed less time between pitchers than the league average (23 seconds), and especially the average Sox hitter (23.5 seconds).

To get an idea of his default level of futzing, let's compare him against a couple other Sox players in a situation that puts the onus on the hitter. That situation:

  • Cleveland's T.J. House, the ninth-fastest starter in baseball, on the mound.
  • Nobody on base.
  • Early in the at-bat.
  • No swing.
  • Camerawork that shows the hitter between pitches well enough.

Here's Eaton on Sept. 5:

This is as fast as Eaton gets. You have to throw out his first time up, as he's tied up with stomping out the back line of the batter's box. He doesn't readjust his batting gloves or helmet compulsively, but he might after a few pitches. Still, Eaton does everything somewhat frenetically, so it doesn't feel like stalling.

Conor Gillaspie, on the other hand (from May 28):

Conor Gillaspie pace

Now that Paul Konerko is doing his back exercises in his Scottsdale fiefdom, Gillaspie ranks as the slowest-working hitter in a Sox uniform (25.6 seconds). This is as fast as he gets, as it's the rare time he doesn't adjust both of his pant legs at the shins. When that enters the routine, you can hear House's brain yawning:

Gillaspie_pace2_medium

But both Eaton and Gillaspie look especially sluggish when compared to Carlos Sanchez:

Carlos Sanchez pace

At 20.4 seconds, he was the Sox's fastest hitter by more than a full second, and the sixth-fastest in all of baseball, at least among those with 100 plate appearances. This is pretty much the pace-of-play ideal -- the Mark Buehrle of hitters, if you will -- even if his results from 2014 are a far cry from the production you'd want.

A potential inverse of that sentiment:

Jose Abreu doesn't have a routine, but he'll go through an assortment of motions while gathering himself over an average duration of 25.2 seconds.

In this case, I'm guessing nobody cares. This here is Eaton's strongest counterargument -- when Abreu maximizes the time of his plate appearance, it's great for business. Watching his GIF against Sanchez's, maybe we should regulate hitters on a sliding scale of watchability.

Hey, that was another pleasant byproduct of the Buehrle method -- when he got his butt kicked, it was over quickly. Basically, hitting or pitching, all pace problems can be resolved by pointing his way.