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Allow me a temporary pivot to video so I can do some showing with my telling.
Following up on Thursday’s study of Mark Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game in 2005 against a standard one in 2019 (Lucas Giolito’s shutout of the Twins), I put together the above video showing what each pitcher’s version of “cruising” looks like.
Watch as Buehrle and Giolito throw a 1-2-3 inning on nine pitches in real time side by side. Buehrle is facing the middle third of Seattle’s lineup in the seventh, while Giolito is turning over the order in the third. That’s Giolito’s fastest inning of his shutout, which would be good for the sixth-quickest in Buehrle’s start. When you see this kind of gap during a no-drama inning, you can see how innings with baserunners would eventually create a disparity of 20 minutes or more.
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It’s worth pointing out, like Right Size Wrong Shape did in the discussion under Thursday’s post, that Giolito has a little unexplored potential in the pace department. He remembered the speed at which Giolito handled the fifth inning against Toronto on May 18 because an intensifying rain threatened to postpone the game mere pitches before it would become official. Giolito stepped on the gas pedal and got the job done for the first complete game of the Rick Renteria era.
Grabbing a chart from that post to time the inning in which he faced Richard Urena, Luke Maile and Billy McKinney, he indeed outpaced any of his innings from the Aug. 21 shutout we examined.
Giolito’s fastest inning on Aug. 21 was the third inning seen above, when he threw nine pitches in 3 minutes, 16 seconds, or 21.8 seconds per pitch. His fifth against Toronto clocks in a flat 19 seconds per pitch, which included Giolito exchanging one baseball he didn’t like, and a few other pitches when he was atop the rubber while the batter hadn’t stepped in.
Under better conditions, Giolito might’ve been able to knock it down to 18 or 17.5 seconds a batter, which puts him at the slower end of Buehrle’s spectrum. In the video above, Buehrle is spending about 15 seconds a pitch. But given the trends of slower paces leaguewide, and Giolito’s tendency to slow down as the pitch count rises, I’d have doubts that he could maintain that urgency for longer than an emergency measure.
If Giolito could sustain that clip, he’d probably have to sell it better. “Why didn’t people try to mess up Buehrle’s timing?” was a question I saw a few times as the link got passed around, and I think it’s because Buehrle didn’t draw attention to it. He didn’t need the whole mound. He just used it for the rubber, the landing point, and the ground in between, and repeated his steps until it was strange to see him anywhere else.
Giolito creates more of a circular path to the rubber on his way to throwing another pitch, so it was noticeable when he doubled his efforts. He also bounced on the mound while waiting for the hitter to step in, while Buehrle was already there, placid and gripped. When Buehrle presents it so casually, he’s not establishing a tactic worth disrupting, but merely the natural course of the afternoon. Nobody wants to be the one to harsh the mellow.
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Going through the archives of the Seattle and Chicago papers after Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game, a few notes:
*Buehrle’s start occurred in the middle of Shingo Takatsu’s season-starting struggles, and Ozzie Guillen ultimately shifted to Dustin Hermanson in save situations by the end of the month. While the shaking faith in Takatsu came up, Guillen said the lack of mound visits in the ninth inning was more the result of his laissez-faire attitude with his starters.
From the Chicago Tribune on April 17, 2005:
“That was [Buehrle’s] game,” Guillen said. “When Ichiro got the triple, he was looking at me and I said, ‘That’s your game.’ It was never in my mind to take him out.
“The way he was throwing the ball, you don’t have to be a genius to leave him in.”
*Ichiro Suzuki’s 3-for-3 day — Seattle’s only three hits on the day — gave him a 12-for-24 performance against Buehrle in head-to-head matchups at that point in their careers.
“I can’t find a way to get that guy out,” Buehrle said. “I pretty much throw everything. He’s the best hitter I’ve ever faced.”
*From the other clubhouse, the Seattle Times story has quotes from the other side, starting with a fine lede:
CHICAGO — It was a pitching duel to behold, except there wasn’t much time for beholding.
“That didn’t take long, did it?” commented Mariners manager Mike Hargrove as reporters entered his office after the game.
And it also offers mutual respect from Ichiro, who said it was the fastest game he could ever remember playing in.
“When the game drags on, it’s hard mentally to stay focused,” Ichiro said. “A faster game is definitely good. But not quite this fast.”