Olney: the Nats are shopping Willingham so Adam Dunn can play the outfield. Yikes.

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Buster Olney passes this along:  “Heard this: The Nationals have Josh Willingham back out on the trade market, perhaps to give them the option of shifting Adam Dunn back to the outfield.”

Willingham just signed a $4.6 million deal to avoid arbitration. He hit 260/.367/.496 with 24 home runs, 61 RBI and a career-high .863 OPS in
2009, and though his defense is lacking, he’s a useful player who would help a lot of teams and possibly provide some value back to the Nats.  They’ve shopped him in the past. They’ll likely shop him again. It makes some sense.

But the impetus for this move can’t be to move Dunn to the outfield, can it?  I mean sure, Dunn would probably be the absolute worst defensive first baseman in the game if they keep Willingham and left him there, but he’d do far more damage in left field, wouldn’t he?  In 2009, Dunn had the single worst defensive season for any outfielder since they began to calculate UZR. And 2009 was no fluke: he was bad in 2008, 2007 and just about every other year in his career.

Makes you wonder what the Nats’ know about how his first base “skills” have developed in the past year.

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.