In recent years, Red Sox-Yankees games have morphed from simple baseball contests into battles so epic in size and length you could probably get through half of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and still catch the ninth inning. Baseball is inherently slow, and these extra-long games make it even more monotonous. Few have seriously tried to speed up Red Sox-Yankees games, the notable exception being umpire Joe West.
With Sunday’s 3-2 extra-innings Red Sox victory, which took 4 hours and 15 minutes, many critics have begun to lay the blame at the feet of “entitled” pitchers like Josh Beckett, calling for measures as drastic as a pitch clock similar to basketball’s shot clock.
Beckett certainly takes his time between pitches, but is he really to blame?
Beckett Works Faster Than You Think
Games Beckett has started this year have averaged 3:27. A bit on the long side, sure, but a whopping six of Beckett’s starts have gone to extra innings. As the team’s ace and most consistent pitcher, Beckett often finds himself matched up against the best pitcher on the opposing staff. The Red Sox have averaged just 3.7 runs in games started by Beckett. Low-scoring games often mean extra innings.
Removing Beckett’s extra-innings games (21 total extra innings), average game time drops to exactly three hours. If you’re an NL baseball fan – where the pitchers having to hit usually means a full inning of quick and easy pitching – transitioning to the AL, that might seem like a long time. Longtime AL fans know that with the DH making lineups stronger one to nine with fewer sacrificed at-bats, three hours is downright breezy.
Beckett is also a slightly faster pitcher when he faces the Yankees, extra-inning slogs like Sunday’s notwithstanding. In 28 career starts against the Yankees – including two with the Marlins in the 2003 World Series – Beckett’s starts have averaged 3:23.
Beckett has been victimized by great opposing pitchers, extra-inning games and occasionally rain. Beckett can’t control any of these factors, so blaming him for the length of his games is ridiculous.
With the Yankees, Caution is Wise
Even if Beckett takes too long with his pitches against the Yankees, there are some compelling reasons why:
- The Yankees are patient: The Yankees lead the majors with 441 walks this season. They have the 11th-fewest strikeouts with 785 (seventh in the AL). They rank second behind only the Red Sox in on-base percentage at .344. The Yankees are very good at discerning a bad pitch from a good pitch, and if their hitters are going be that deliberate in their at-bats, shouldn’t Beckett be as deliberate with his pitches? Beckett takes his time because he doesn’t want to risk even a single bad pitch. Which is good, because…
- The Yankees are powerful: The Yankees lead the majors with 153 home runs, 12 more than the second-place Red Sox. More than that, their offense this season is built around their power. They aren’t an offense that strings together five or six hits and walks, but rather clobbers teams with a lineup in which every hitter is threat to go deep at any moment. Sunday’s game was exactly like that: the Yankees scored just twice, but on solo home runs from their one- and nine-hole hitters, who saw a combined six pitches in two at-bats. The Yankees can score quickly, so it behooves Beckett to make sure every pitch he makes is what he wants and where wants it. Except he can’t just pitch them outside all the time, because…
- The Yankees are fast: The Yankees lead the AL with 119 steals and are tied with the Rangers for highest success rate at 76 percent. Teams have stolen 16 bags off Beckett (11th most among AL starters) and been caught only four times (bottom 40 percent in success rate). If Beckett takes his time on the mound with Yankees on, it’s because he knows they want to run, and his slowness gives them a good chance of doing so successfully. So he holds the ball as long as he can to disrupt their timing and increase his chances for a fly out or a double play.
Beckett isn’t as slow as people say he is, but he has good reason for taking his time against the Yankees. Beckett owes nothing to a bored and easily distracted t.v. audience, and the fans in the stands want more than anything else to see the Red Sox win. If Beckett’s pace increases the Red Sox’s chances of winning, then how can anyone naysay him?