The secret to the success of Buchholz and Lester?

The Sox currently sit at the top of the AL East, and no one deserves more credit than Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. You wouldn't find anyone in the pre-season who wouldn't say that the key to the playoffs for Boston started at the top of the rotation. Buchholz and Lester have both seen improved command (they combine for 41 strikeouts to 13 walks), but there is another improvement both have made that might be contributing to their dominance.

One complaint that Red Sox starters have consistently received over the past few seasons is the slow pace they take on the mound. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka were known as two of the slowest starters in baseball, but Buchholz and Lester were not far behind. Fangraphs keeps track of a stat called 'pace', which simply measures the time average time in between pitches. In his career, Lester has averaged 23.6 seconds between pitches, putting him 29th in baseball among starters since his career started in 2004. Since making his debut in 2007, Buchholz has averaged 25.3 seconds between pitches, making him the 4th slowest starter (Beckett and Matsuzaka come in at 2nd and 3rd).

There is not a strong correlation between pitchers' pace and success on the mound, and many pitchers can be effective with a slow pace -- CC Sabathia, Curt Schilling, and Mike Mussina are all in the top 25 since 2000. However, John Farrell made it a point in the off-season to increase the speed of the starting pitchers, and that started at the top. New pitching coach Juan Nieves has had a stop watch on him at all times, and has been hammering this idea of urgency since the first day of Spring Training.

Although Lester and Buchholz have only started three games each, they have seen an increase in urgency on the mound, and have only seen positive results. Buchholz has dropped over a second off of his pace, averaging 23.9 seconds on the year. This still ranks him 12th among starting pitchers, but the fact that he is increasing his pace is encouraging. Lester has seen even more improvement, pitching over two seconds quicker than his career average. He has had the 46th fastest pace this season at 21.5 seconds, but if you take out his 25 second pace on Opening Day, he would rank among the quickest pacers in baseball this season.

Whether this increased urgency lasts all season remains to be seen, but as long as they see success on the mound, I can't see Lester and Buchholz going back to their slothful habits. By the way, no one will be surprised to learn that Jonathan Papelbon is the slowest pitcher in baseball since 2007 at 30.9 seconds.

Like my opinion? Read more here. Don't like it? Let me know on Twitter @therealjtrunfio