by Jonathan de Marte – January 18th, 2018
Last week, a college pitcher reached out to me asking if I could share my thoughts on messing with timing as a pitcher. Moving forward, writing about suggested topics is one of our goals. If a reader has a topic they want to hear us share our thoughts about, we will happily put something together!
A trend that has surfaced in the big leagues over the past few seasons is pitchers messing with timing. The technique is not as new as one might believe! Luis Tiant and Orlando Hernandez (‘El Duque’) are just a few of the pitchers in the past who used this technique to their advantage. You might recognize this timing technique from names such as Marcus Stroman and Johnny Cueto. It seems that every pitch these guys throw comes from a different delivery. Both are outstanding pitchers, and maybe this unique skill aids in their success.
It would be challenging to acquire statistical evidence on pitchers messing with timing without going back in the archives and watching every pitch thrown by these two. We would have to track how they performed in a typical delivery where they were not trying to disrupt timing versus a delivery where they changed something to disrupt timing. Unless we can tap into the MLB archives, there might not be a way to get real statistical evidence on the subject. In the future, we would love to study this content, but at this moment in the beginning stages of SOTG, we do not have the capacity for long projects like this. Matthew informed me of when he spoke with a member of the Blue Jays analytics department, the organization had looked into whether or not there was a statistically backed answer to Stroman’s various methods of altering timing and if it improves performance. It is compelling to see front offices creativity in their projects. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays could not share the results of this project. Therefore, all of my opinions on this subject are more anecdotal rather than actual numerically backed answers.
I am a big proponent of messing with timing, but I do not think it is something for every pitcher. Before my first outing in professional baseball, one of my teammates with numerous years of experience in the Rangers organization, American Association, and Frontier League told me to change up my deliveries and leg lifts to the plate. With my heart racing in the bullpen before getting called in for the first time, I tried to vary how long I would hold my leg up or how quickly and high I would lift it. Throughout the rest of the summer, I made sure to vary my deliveries to the plate when it was least expected. I did not want to continue this too often and become predictable. I cannot tell you how successful I was each time I changed up my timing, but my first outing in pro ball resulted in no hard contact, no walks or hits, and three strikeouts. I felt like the hitters were very off-balanced and I attribute some of this success to my pitch timing.
If you look at the pitchers who vary deliveries, they are typically guys who pound the zone. Cueto and Stroman each had below league average Base on Balls % in 2017. Kenley Jansen, another notable name who disrupts timing did not walk a batter until June 25th of last year! If you are a young pitcher with little “feel” for your mechanics, I would focus on making them more consistent and repeatable, and learn how to limit your walks before experimenting with timing.
For veteran pitchers playing at higher levels, I would say the same thing. Once you feel you have repeatable mechanics, then I would try to implement this technique into your pregame warm-ups and bullpen work. If you are in high school or college, and still struggle with command, I do not think this is the answer. If you are a strike thrower and possess the athleticism to throw from many different timing points, then go ahead! Hall of Famer Warren Spahn once said “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” Before using different timing methods in games, I would recommend making sure you are not sacrificing your ‘best stuff.’ I do not think this will be a problem for most pitchers. I believe high-level athletes can use their athleticism to their advantage, making changes to their motion and delivery with the same level of execution. If a pitcher is sacrificing pitch execution for different deliveries, this may be a technique where one should tread lightly. Anything to disrupt a hitters timing, in my opinion, should work to your advantage, because the hitter is forced to make an unexpected adjustment. At the high school and college levels, hitters are not as in-tune with their mechanics and might not possess the ability to adjust their timing to varied looks from a pitcher. If this is a tool you have been pondering, I would suggest in your next bullpen trying to experiment with it. If you decide to start varying your looks and timing, feel free to share your progress with us so we can see and share the adjustments you have made. Inbox message them to us @StudentsOfTGame on Twitter or Instagram, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!