What we're watching: Niemann vs. Halladay

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– Jeff Niemann could further his Rookie of the Year case by outdueling Roy Halladay as the Rays and Jays play tonight.  Niemann has already done it once this season by limiting Toronto to one run over 7 1/3 innings in a 4-1 victory on June 29.  Halladay is coming off his shortest start of the year, that coming against the Red Sox, but he beat the Rays by pitching eight strong innings 10 days ago.  He’s 13-6 with a 2.78 ERA, while Niemann is 11-5 with a 3.71 ERA.

 

– After losing the first game, the Rockies have bounced back to win the middle contests of a four-game series against the Giants and build a three-game lead in the wild card chase.  Now they’ll go for three out of four with 14-game winner Jason Marquis on the mound.  Marquis is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in his two starts versus San Francisco this year.  The Giants are starting Barry Zito, who has a 2.36 ERA in seven starts since the break.  He pitched seven scoreless innings in his lone start against the Rockies.

 

Game of the Night

 

Detroit vs. Los Angeles – A pair of 13-game winners will face off in Anaheim, with Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver going at it.  Verlander has bounced back from two mediocre efforts to allowed three runs in 16 innings over his last two starts.  He’s the AL leader with 204 strikeouts.  Weaver was actually on a far worse run than Verlander before righting the ship with a complete-game shutout against the Indians five days ago.  He had a 7.07 ERA in his previous 11 starts.  The winner tonight, assuming that it’s a starter, will move into a tie with Josh Beckett (and perhaps Halladay) for second place in the AL in victories, one behind CC Sabathia.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.