The Importance of Being Quick to the Plate

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Some Orioles pitchers are better than others at controlling the running game. Ubaldo Jimenez has had an especially difficult time catching runners attempting to steal against him. Why is it about him that makes him so easy to run against?

During Friday night's Orioles game against the Twins, Ubaldo Jimenez had his best outing as an Oriole striking out 10 over seven and a third scoreless innings. After struggling over his first five starts of the season, it was good to see Jimenez have a dominant outing. The Orioles just made large investment in Jimenez so it was good to see at least one outing of the type of pitching the Orioles are paying for.

Despite that success, there was one area of the game in which he struggled mightily. Base runners went three for three against him with two of the steals not even eliciting a throw from Matt Wieters. When the catcher doesn't even attempt to throw the runner out while attempting to steal, one of two things happened. Either the pitch was too hard to handle for the catcher to get off a decent throw, or the pitcher was too slow to the plate for the catcher to have a chance to throw the runner out.

Unfortunately for Jimenez, in his case it's more of the latter than the former. Because of how he struggled to hold runners close in this game, it made me curious how long it actually took for him to get the ball to the plate. While I was checking, I figured I might as well check the rest of the Orioles rotation too.

First, let's talk about what a good delivery time to the plate would be. Before last season, Steve Melewski of MASN talked to Dylan Bundy about his delivery time to the plate. Here's the money quote from the article:

"I've been working on that since the middle of last year," he said. "When I came into the minor leagues, I was about a 1.5 or 1.6. Now I'm at a 1.35. That is all right if you have a good catcher back there. They'll throw guys out if you are a 1.3."

Earlier in the piece, Steve talked about how Buck Showalter wanted all of the pitchers in the Orioles organization to be at 1.35 seconds or below. So we've established that 1.35 seconds is solid and 1.30 seconds is a good time to the plate. Just to be clear, delivery time is calculated by timing a pitcher from the stretch from his first movement until the pitch hits the catcher's mitt.

I'm certainly not an expert in using a stop watch to calculate delivery times, but I think these should be close enough for our purposes.

Average Low High
Ubaldo Jimenez 1.41 1.24 1.61
Wei-Yin Chen 1.28 1.23 1.36
Chris Tillman 1.18 1.13 1.28
Bud Norris 1.33 1.26 1.38
Miguel Gonzalez 1.28 1.2 1.4

You can see from the table that Ubaldo easily has the slowest delivery time of all of the Orioles starters. He also has the biggest difference between his quickest and slowest times to the plate. When I was looking at the video to get the times, Ubaldo's times were all over the place. The other four starters in the rotation were relatively consistent but Ubaldo's were not. He'd have one time in the 1.25 range and another in the 1.6 range.

The difference in time to the plate from one pitch to the next could lead to inconsistent outings from Jimenez. Each pitcher usually has a distinct timing pattern to the plate that they attempt to replicate on each pitch. Changing his timing on each pitch is generally the result of a pitcher with inconsistent mechanics, something that has certainly been said about Jimenez in the past.

Speedy base runners can make it to second base in about 3.25 seconds. A runner like Billy Hamilton can reach second base in 3 seconds or even maybe slightly less than that, but 3.25 is about average for a decent base stealer. Thanks to the fine work of Tucker Blair of Orioles Nation and Baseball Prospectus, we know that Matt Wieters has a pop time of about 1.86 seconds. (Pop time is the time it takes for the ball to go from the catcher's glove to the second baseman's glove covering second base.)

If we add the delivery times above to Wieters' pop time, in order to have a reasonable time of throwing the runner out, the total time would have to be less than 3.25 seconds. In order to account for throws that aren't right on the bag, we also need to add some time for the fielder to tag the runner. I think maybe a tenth of a second is a decent enough estimate. If we add Wieters' pop time and a tenth of a second for the tag to each pitcher's average, we get the following:

Total Time
Ubaldo Jimenez 3.37
Wei-Yin Chen 3.24
Chris Tillman 3.14
Bud Norris 3.29
Miguel Gonzalez 3.24

Now we can really get a feel for the chance to get the runner with each pitcher throwing. Jimenez and Norris are both over the 3.25 seconds cutoff time we set, while Chen, Tillman, and Gonzalez are all under this benchmark. Tillman's delivery time is especially impressive. He gets there through using a lower leg lift out of the stretch than he normally would out of the windup which cuts his time down. He has been definitely been effective controlling the running game by doing it.

So now that we can see that Jimenez and Norris struggle to deliver the ball to the plate in a reasonable amount of time for Wieters to throw out the runner, let's see how the five of them have done in controlling the running game. So far this season, Ubaldo has allowed 6 of 7 base runners to steal off of him. Miguel Gonzalez has allowed 3 of 3; Chen has allowed 1 of 1; Norris has allowed 5 of 5 and Tillman hasn't had a runner attempt to steal off of him yet this season.

Just to be sure we weren't looking at too small of a sample, I pulled last year's numbers too. They're very similar to 2014 just larger in size. Ubaldo and Norris struggled letting up 16 of 22 and 16 of 21 respectively. Gonzalez only let up 2 stolen bases on 5 attempts and Chen let up 4 on 7 attempts. Impressively, Tillman only allowed one successful stolen base in nine attempts last season. Now we understand why no one has tried to run on him this year.

The running game is more of a numbers game than most would have you believe. If the runner knows that he can get to second base faster than the total time it'll take for the pitcher to deliver the ball to the catcher and the catcher to get it to second, the runner is going to run. If you ever see one of the base coaches using a stopwatch, this is what they're doing. They're trying to figure out how long it takes for the pitcher to get the ball to the catcher to see if the base runner will have the advantage.

Hopefully now when you watch Orioles games, you'll have a feel for which of the Orioles pitchers are quick to the plate and which of them are not. The opposing teams certainly do.

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