A word about spring training games

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spring training stretch.jpgAs people who’ve been reading my stuff for a while know, I have this little habit of waking up really early in the morning during the baseball season, reading all of the box scores and game stories and riffing on the previous night’s games in a little feature called “And That Happened.” It’s fun. People seem to like it. Most of all, I like it, because I have a ball writing it and the process of doing it every day is the single most important part of me keeping plugged in to what’s going on in baseball.

But since I get asked this every March, let me make one thing clear now: there will be no “And That Happened” for the spring training games that began yesterday and start in earnest today. Yes, it’s baseball, but it’s a decidedly different beast than the game we know and love. Things happen in spring training like, say, a team benching all of its regulars at the last minute because it rained three hours earlier. Veterans don’t make road trips very often and play golf while their teammates sweat. Pitchers go two or three innings max until at least the end of the month. What happens in those games may be interesting, but the games as a whole are not meaningful. They’re certainly not the sort of thing that makes a guy want to dig down and analyze the heck out of a box score, ya know?

We’ll certainly be keeping you up to date on what happens in spring training games — see Matthew’s rundown of yesterday’s game, for example — but the first ATH will come on Monday, April 5th with a wrapup the previous night’s Yankees-Red Sox game.

And that’s just over a month away, my friends. 

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.