At least, not from a pitching speed point of view - the whole "meeting on the mound" thing is an entirely different issue, which I won't get into here. The match-up for which you should look to take a book (and perhaps also a sandwich) is not the dreaded New York-Boston rivalry in the AL East, though it is an American League rivalry. The two slowest pitching teams in the majors last season were the Rays (24.1 seconds per pitch) and the Astros (23.7), largely because Tampa has the two slowest qualifying starters, in David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. The D-backs were positively lickety-split by comparison, all the way down in 27th, at 20.5 seconds.
The league doesn't make much difference
Again, the Junior Circuit overall has a reputation for longer games, but if that's the case, it's not the fault of their pitchers. The two leagues' average times were very similar for 2013: The National League came in at 22.5 seconds; while the American League was slower, it was only by two-tenths of a second per pitch, at 22.7. Over an average baseball game, which last season saw 292 pitches, that would work out to less than 60 seconds. Even allowing time for pickoffs, the difference probably works out at under a couple of minutes. Mind you, if the authorities want to speed up the game, actually enforcing the 12-second rule as written would be highly effective.
Relievers definitely take their time more than starters
As we saw yesterday, it's closers who dominate the list of the slowest-paced pitchers, and that's reflected in a general gap in pace between starters (21.8 seconds) and relievers (23.7 seconds). The worst offenders have actually been fined for delaying the game too much: closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom we mentioned yesterday as among the slowest of the slow, said as far back as 2009 that he had been cited at least five times: "I think they're going to call my parole officer and put me away.." However, that seems rare, and the total fines levied on him were only in the low five digits, pocket change considering he has now earned over $53 million dollars.
Runners on-base = a grinding halt
I couldn't find stats for the season just gone, but in 2011, the average across all of major-league baseball was 27.3 seconds between pitches when there were runners on base, almost 50% slower than it was with the bases empty, at 18.6 seconds. That difference seems to apply across the board: the same report looked as Josh Beckett in one game, and found he took 25.0 seconds with the bases empty, and a staggering 40.3 seconds per pitch when there was anyone on the bags. That helped to prompt a concerned phone-call from MLB's VP of Operations, Joe Torre, to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, pointing out "that the game took longer than it should have."
Getting older slows you down
Well, I think that's a sentiment with which we can all generally agree. And, as in life, so it appears to be in baseball, where younger pitchers are generally a bit quicker than the older ones. Those aged 25 and under last season averaged 21.9 seconds per pitch. Those aged from 26 to 30 took 22.6 seconds per pitch. And those aged 31 or older slowed it down, to 22.9 seconds per pitch. Rookies were generally a little quicker too, perhaps because officials are much more aggressive about enforcing the rules in the minors to keep the game flowing. For instance, umpires will call a strike on a batter if they're delaying the game, leading to things like a one-pitch strikeout.
Don't expect things to change any time soon
We only have seven years of data for this, but the trend is unmistakeable. 2013 was the slowest year to date, at 22.6 seconds, a full half-second longer than the previous season - which was already also the slowest year to that point. Since 2007, when the pace was 21.5, we've seen more than a full second added to the average time between pitches. And outside of Papelbon, the worst that might happen to a slow pitcher seems to be a strongly-worded letter from the powers that be, threatening "additional discipline, including fines," if they continue to violate the pace of game regulations.
Of course, it's not all the pitchers' fault. Those regulations also state things like "batters may not step more than 3 feet from the batter's box." When was the last time you saw that enforced? There's certainly little point in suggesting any changes to the rules, until the existing ones start being consistently applied. In the apparent absence of that, we can look forward to more baseball than ever this year - or, more accurately, the same amount of baseball, just spread out over a longer period of time.