I hold a very definite view of umpires. If I know your name, that’s probably a bad sign. In an ideal world, an umpire would act like the shadow that his black uniform suggests. Instead we have a world where some umpires get off on ostentatiously punching out hitters, and where veteran umpires like Joe West think it is in good taste to express his criticisms of two teams he is supposed to be officiating objectively. There have been enough pixels dedicated to West’s comments, including this amusing anecdote from Matt at Fack Youk, but I’d like to take a look at the long-game effect from Week 1.
The Yankees played six games in the season’s opening week and just one of them finished in under three hours. That, of course, was Friday’s 9-3 affair, in which David Price dominated the Yankees for most of his appearance. The Yankees saw just 132 pitches that night, 111 from Price. Yet not even that tells the whole story. Through the first six innings Price had breezed through the Yankees’ lineup, running into trouble just once and working out of that relatively quickly. He had tossed just 66 pitches, including single-digits in the first and fifth and 10 in the sixth. That makes for a fast paced game, but it did not work in the Yankees’ favor.
What made the game go even quicker was Price’s efficiency. Of those first 66 pitches, 40 were strikes. He even administered the lone walk efficiently, sending Nick Swisher to first base on four pitches. Of the 22 hitters he faced through the sixth, nine of them saw one- or two-pitch at-bats. Only two of them resulted in hits, and both were on the first pitch of an inning. Price’s dominance is what kept that game short. Had Javy Vazquez continued the proficiency he had showed in the first three innings, it might have been even shorter.
In the five three-plus-hour affairs the Yankees scored 33 runs, or more than six per game. Starting pitchers lasted just 27 innings, or just over 5.1 per outing. They threw 496 total pitches, so 18.4 per inning and 99.2 per start. This meant that the bullpen had to pitch the remaining 18 innings, or just under 3.2 innings per game. That’s 3.2 innings per game in which the Yankees get to beat up on lesser pitchers. The Yankees saw 357 pitches over those 18 relief innings, or nearly 20 pitches per inning. Best of all, they scored 18 runs off relievers, one per inning. It’s no wonder the front office has assembled a team that is willing to take pitches.
MLB has expressed its desire to hasten the pace of games, specifically ones involving the Yankees and Red Sox. As JoePos wrote, those two teams do indeed play the longest games. In fact, the entire AL East plays longer than the other two AL divisions. Yet the AL East contains the best two, and perhaps the best three, teams in baseball. This doesn’t mean that there is a direct correlation to playing long and winning. But it doesn’t seem to hurt.
West’s criticism, it seems, centers on the constant stepping out of the box, visits to the mound, and pitching changes. All of that comes along with the strategy of driving up pitch counts. When a pitcher throws more pitches in an inning he might need a breather or a refresher on strategy, hence the mound visits. He also might need calming down, hence the pitching coach trips. This is in an effort to keep the pitcher in the game, so that there doesn’t need to be a time-consuming mid-inning pitching change. Yet those inevitably happen. So the game goes on. I’m not quite sure batters asking for time significantly increases game time, but if it does that’s still on the pitcher. I don’t see many batters aimlessly calling for time. It’s mostly because the pitcher is taking too long in reading the signs.
For his statements, West received a firm admonishment from MLB. Again, since I’m of the mind that umpires should not at all be known, I disagree with the severity. West should have known to keep his mouth shut. Then again, since MLB itself has been vocal about the issue, it was doubtful from the start that he’d receive any kind of meaningful punishment. That’s kind of sad. We shouldn’t hear this kind of commentary from the arbiters of balls and strikes, safes and outs. They should be in the background, doing what they do diligently, respectfully, and quietly.