During baseball games, it’s not unusual to see hitters step out of the batter’s box or pitchers step off the rubber to clear their heads.
But as game times get lengthier, there’s more scrutiny on the subtle nuances of pitchers and hitters — routines that players established in their early years, and superstitions they are beholden to to maintain their focus.
The Tigers’ Victor Martinez, regarded as one of baseball’s most patient and focused hitters, last month ended a streak of 154 games without taking a called third strike. He generally steps out of the box between pitches — sometimes for 15-20 seconds. That time adds up over the course of the game, which can include four or more plate appearances.
The Detroit News analyzed the Tigers’ May 4 matchup at Kansas City, timing and breaking down each at-bat.
Martinez had an eight-pitch at-bat against Royals starter Jason Vargas. He fouled off three pitches and took 22 seconds before getting set in the batter’s box. On three other pitches, he averaged about 20 seconds before he was ready for the next pitch. Including a 33-second pause for walk-up music before the first pitch, the entire plate appearance lasted almost four minutes.
“I can’t go out there and be rushing,” he said. “I always take my time between pitches and make sure I stay with my plan.”
He finished the long at-bat with a single, and through Sunday’s games, Martinez was leading the American League in hitting with a .335 average. He also leads the Tigers in home runs (13) and on-base percentage (.390).
Rajai Davis, in his first season as a Tiger, rarely leaves the batter’s box. In 62 seconds he struck out on five pitches to lead off the May 4 game. Ian Kinsler, who also stays in the box, hit a double in a four-pitch, 64-second at-bat.
“For me, (staying in the box) is just a habit that I’ve grown accustomed to, unless I need a little time,” Davis said. “Maybe (I’ll step out) with two strikes, or if I just took a bad swing.”
Each batter has his own routine, which can include adjusting batting gloves or padding after each pitch. It’s a process and idiosyncrasy that continues throughout a career. But Davis admires Martinez’s success at the plate.
“He’s so focused and he doesn’t strike out — maybe I should do that more,” Davis joked. “I don’t know what he’s thinking, but whatever it is, it’s good.”
With extended game times — which average 3 hours, 10 minutes in the American League this season — there’s more attention on how long at-bats are taking, regardless of the outcome.
“The results are great, but I would love to see (a rule) that you could only take one foot out of the batter’s box to look at the third-base coach, or something along that line,” Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline said. “I’m sure every once in a while, (the umpires) tell a hitter to go, but it’s a habit thing and it’s hard to break.”
Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said leaving the batter’s box lets him think through his approach and gauge the next pitch.
“I step out and I think. I try to figure out things the pitcher is trying to do; it’s a puzzle,” he said. “You remember things in the past — what he’s done (against) you, what they’re doing to you as a team. It all goes (quickly).”