The Cuban guy Nestor Cortes He came down from the mound, took the shot from his receiver and did what many of his heroes would have done in that situation. He walked on the grass surrounding the mound, thought about his next pitch and what he wanted to do with it, before getting back on the pitcher’s plate.
This was not a major league game. It was a Little League duel. And Cortés’ little walks weren’t part of his routine for a long time before his dad caught his eye.
“Stop walking so much!” his father told him. “You’re getting tired by yourself!”
So that’s why a young Cortés — long before he became a member of the New York Yankees — began taking less time between pitches. Today, he is not only one of the best starters in the majors, but also one of the fastest workers. In the 2022 season, he took an average of 15 seconds between pitches, tied for the 21st fastest pace among qualified pitchers.
“I feel that hitters are super comfortable when the pitcher takes his time,” Cortés said. “So I use that (taking less time between deliveries) to my advantage.”
Of course, not all pitchers work as quickly as Cortés, so not all pitchers will make as easy a transition to the pitch timer that is coming to MLB.
Opening Day 2023 will mark the beginning of a new era which will actually remind us of days gone by, when baseball will have a very different rhythm than it does today. As more and more pitchers took those steps around the mound, a new generation saw them and incorporated it into their routines. Then, with the game becoming more and more focused on speed, pitchers take even more time to prepare before each pitch.
From 2010 (the first season for which we have reliable data) to 2022, the average pitch between bases empty went from 15.9 seconds to 18, while the average time with runners on base increased from 22.1 to 23.3.*
*Note that this calculation, like all the others in this story, is based on Statcast’s pitch count, which measures the number of seconds between when a pitcher throws one ball and when he throws another. This is different from the pitching timer, which will not activate until the pitcher receives the catcher’s ball.
The timer will control that. From the moment the pitcher receives the catcher’s throw, there will be a 15-second timer with the bases empty and a 20-second timer with runners on. The pitcher must begin his motion to throw the ball before the timer expires. Pitchers who do not comply with this measure will be penalized with a ball, and batters who are not in the box and attentive watching the pitcher when the clock shows eight seconds will receive an automatic strike.
In the Minor Leagues through 2022, the pitching timer resulted in a reduction of about 25 minutes in average game lengths. So that, broadly speaking, is seen as a positive for a sport that is trying to compete for the attention of an audience that isn’t fascinated by the idea of four minutes passing between balls in play.
But the side effects of the stopwatch will be suffered by those pitchers who take their good time on the mound and will see their routines altered. For this reason, by watching what fast-paced streamers do, we can learn a lot about what others will have to do to complete this transition effectively.
Veteran reliever Jesse Chavez (who, at 13.7 seconds between pitches, had the fastest pace in 2022) said it’s the time a pitcher takes to study his plan before the game that primarily affects the time it takes to release the ball during the game.
“Preparation is what determines what you do out there,” Chávez said. “There will be times when you have to change the plan, but I feel that if I give the hitter less time to think in the box, I have a better chance of executing my pitch. Because I already know what I want to do.”
Rockies reliever Brent Suter — the man who worked the fastest in 2022 while with the Brewers (12.6 seconds between pitches) — pointed to the importance of different types of preparation:
“That will be much more important next season,” Suter said. “They will run more, less rest between brisk jogs or cardio intervals. That will be of great importance. In addition, nutrition and good sleep”.
The importance of good passing was stressed to Suter during college ball by Harvard University pitching coach John Birtwell, who saw action in the minor leagues.
“He was one of those guys who didn’t have a good stuff, but he played baseball for several years with the idea of working fast, throwing strikes, attacking the zone,” Sutter said. “So he was extremely important in college, and I kept working fast more and more in the minor league.”
Over the course of his career, Suter learned how to get used to receiving the ball and shooting.
“Normally in the weight room, I rest 20 seconds between exercises,” Suter said. “There are few who do it like this. I have always been faster in the weight room and with less time between jogs. I want to simulate what I do on the mound.”
Guardians ace Shane Bieber (14.6 seconds between pitches, 10th fastest) agreed.
“This is a fast-moving sport,” Bieber noted. “You don’t run on a soccer field for two hours. So it’s definitely something you need to keep in mind, and try to implement in the weight room.”
Physical conditioning is important, as is conviction.
“I don’t want to have a lot of time to overthink something, to back off and have second thoughts about what I’m about to do,” explained Guardians starter Cal Quantrill (14.9 seconds between pitches, 19 no faster). ). “I made up my mind, I have conviction in the pitching that I am going to throw, and I throw. They return the ball to me, and I do it again. That way you create a kind of rhythm.”
The implementation of the pitch timer has already begun to factor into the winter — teams must figure out how pitchers who are noticeably slow with their pitches will accommodate the new rules. It was a topic that closer Kenley Jansen, one of those who worked the slowest in 2022, addressed at his press conference to be introduced after signing him with the Red Sox.
“I don’t have a problem with the pitching timer,” Jansen said. “There will also be an adjustment for hitters. I remember last year when I found out that I was one of the slower workers and started to speed up a bit more. I can tell you, he was standing on the rubber waiting a long time for the batter to be ready. I think that both parts will have to be coupled. You shouldn’t let that bother you. I’m excited. We will learn from that and everything will be fine.”
Although some may be complaining that their routines that have brought them to the highest level in baseball will be interrupted, those who work quickly stressed the advantages that the pitching timer will give them.
“Most will get used to it after a few performances in Spring Training,” Quantrill said. “They will feel that rhythm, and then it won’t be a problem. I think some of the older casters who don’t want to break their habits will not like it, but for most, you shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds to decide what you want to do. It’s about finding a rhythm in the early spring, getting used to it and then by the time the season starts, I don’t think there will be a lot of reprimands.”
In the end, the best advice of all for what we will see in MLB could be what Cortés’s father said all those years ago and what the lefty himself is saying now.
“Don’t get so low off the mound,” Cortés said with a smile. “I think where people spend the most time is getting off the mound.”
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‘Fast’ pitchers explain how to deal with the pitch timer