By Paul Casella
Pace of play has been a highly debated topics in Major League Baseball in recent years -- and potential changes could finally be on the horizon.
It was announced on Thursday that, after an experimental run in the Arizona Fall League, a pitch clock will be used during Minor League games at the Double-A and Triple-A levels next season. It's already been ruled out for the Majors this year, but it certainly seems plausible that a pitch clock could be implemented in the coming years.
The specifics of the clock to be used in the Minors are still unknown, though the AFL version mandated that pitchers had to deliver a pitch within 12 seconds when no runners were on base and within 20 seconds when a base was occupied. Aside from the pitch clock, the AFL rules called for a maximum of 2:05 between innings and 2:30 for pitching changes, while also insisting that hitters keep one foot in the batter's box at all times.
With so much discussion about this intriguing experiment, we thought it might be a good exercise to see which of the game's top pitchers would have been most affected by a pitch clock this past season. To do so, we took all the starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title and combined their pace ranking, courtesy of Fangraphs, with their ERA ranking.
A value of one was assigned to the player with the slowest pace, two for the player with the second-slowest pace and so on. The same process was used to rank the pitchers from best ERA to worst. Those two numbers were then added together, with the lowest total representing the pitcher with the best mix of ERA and slow pace.
Spoiler alert: Both Cy Young Award winners made the list, with one claiming the top spot.
10. Julio Teheran, Braves
Pace rank: 21st (23.5 seconds between pitches)
ERA rank: 19th
Teheran hovered right around No. 20 in both ERA and pace, putting him in the top 25th percentile for each category. The right-hander, who turns just 24 later this month, racked up an impressive 2.89 ERA over 33 starts -- including four complete games -- in just his second full season.
9. Chris Archer, Rays
Pace rank: 5th (25.2 seconds)
ERA rank: 31st
Archer makes the list thanks largely to being the fifth-slowest pitcher in terms of pace, according to Fangraphs. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that 12 of Archer's 32 starts last season came in games that lasted at least three-and-a-half hours -- the most of any starter in the Majors. Though three of those games went to extra innings, his nine starts in non-extra inning games that lasted at least three-and-a-half were still tied for the most by any pitcher.
8. Garrett Richards, Angels
Pace rank: 24th (23.2 seconds)
ERA rank: 10th
Richards was in the midst of a breakout campaign before suffering a devastating left knee injury while racing over to cover first base against the Red Sox on Aug. 20. Prior to the season-ending injury, Richards had a 2.61 ERA and allowed just five home runs over 26 starts, putting him at least in the discussion for Cy Young honors. Though he didn't quite crack the top 20 for slowest pace, Richards would likely need to speed his delivery up just a bit, if a pitch clock was indeed implemented.
5(t). David Price, Tigers
Pace rank: 1st (26.6 seconds)
ERA rank: 29th
No pitcher who qualified for the ERA title took longer, on average, to deliver the ball to home plate than Price. Fangraphs clocked him at an average of 26.6 seconds between pitches, more than a half-second more than his closest competitor (Jorge De La Rosa, 26.0). Using his leisurely pace, Price racked up a 3.26 ERA and a Major League-best 271 strikeouts over 248 1/3 innings. The 29-year-old just agreed to a one-year, $19.75 million deal to avoid arbitration with the Tigers, marking the largest salary ever for an arbitration-eligible player prior to hitting free agency.
5(t). Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Pace rank: 25th (23.2 seconds)
ERA rank: 5th
Finishing with the fifth-best ERA in the Majors is a big reason why Wainwright made this list, but his 23.2-second average between pitches certainly played a part in it, as well. The 33-year-old posted a career-best 2.38 ERA en route to finishing third in National League Cy Young voting. It marked Wainwright's second straight season in which he recorded a sub-3.00 ERA and finished in the top three in the Cy Young race.
5(t). Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Pace rank: 29th (23.0 seconds)
ERA rank: 1st
Kershaw racked up a Major League-best 1.77 ERA en route to winning dual NL Cy Young and MVP honors. The Cy Young Award was Kershaw's second straight and third in the past four seasons. Though his No. 1 ranking in ERA was the key to his making this list, his 23-second average between pitches still put him in the top third of slowest starters.
4. Alex Cobb, Rays
Pace rank: 11th (24.5 seconds)
ERA rank: 18th
Cobb was one of just three players (more on the other two shortly) to finish in the top 20 in both ERA and slowest pace last season. He's also the second Tampa Bay Rays pitcher -- and third, if you include Price, who made 23 starts with the Rays -- to make this list. Though the slow pace seems to be a product of the organization to some extent, the fact that all three had respectable enough ERAs to make the cut speaks volumes about the talent of the pitching staff. That said, the Rays had 34 non-extra inning games last at least three-and-a-half hours last season, while no other team in the Majors had more than 28 such contests.
3. Edinson Volquez, Royals
Pace rank: 4th (25.3 seconds)
ERA rank: 23rd
Only three pitchers -- Price, De La Rosa and Clay Buchholz -- worked at a slower pace last season than Volquez. Slowing things down seemed to work for the veteran right-hander, however, as Volquez pitched his way to a career-best 3.04 ERA over 32 outings with the Pirates. After signing a one-year deal with the Royals this offseason, Volquez will look to build off his career year, albeit at a slow pace, in his return to the American League.
1(t). Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Pace rank: 7th (24.8 seconds)
ERA rank: 13th
The final two pitchers on this list are the only two that finished in the top 15 in ERA and bottom 15 in pace. Greinke who had the second-slowest pace in the NL behind only Volquez, finished his Gold Glove-winning season with a 2.71 ERA. He had his all-time record streak of 21 straight starts in which he allowed two runs or less, dating back to 2013, snapped on May 21 against the Brewers.
1(t). Corey Kluber, Indians
Pace rank: 13th (24.4 seconds)
ERA rank: 7th
Kluber edged out Mariners ace Felix Hernandez to win AL Cy Young honors -- but a pitch clock may have forced Kluber to work quite a bit differently last season. The 28-year-old right-hander notched a 2.44 ERA over 34 starts, all while averaging 24.4 seconds between pitches. Kluber was the Indians' starter in a 6-3 victory over the Rays on May 9, a game that lasted a whopping four hours and 10 minutes -- tied for the second-longest non-extra innings game in the AL last season. In fact, it was the longest nine-inning game in which less than 10 total runs were scored since Sept. 1, 2011 when, not surprisingly, it took the Yankees four hours and 21 minutes to beat the Red Sox, 4-2.
Paul Casella is a Sports on Earth contributor and a reporter for MLB.com.