Spring Training trip wrap-up

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Press pass and booze small.JPGMy spring training trip ended with a flight back home yesterday afternoon.  The tale of the tape:

  • Five games, one rainout;
  • One meal with my mother-in-law;
  • One meal with, and four pieces of new media from, Old Gator;
  • A couple dozen awkward conversations with ballplayers who didn’t know me from Adam;
  • A dozen or so conversations with front office/management/PR types, a couple of whom did know me from Adam, but none of whom would tell me all of their deepest, darkest organizational secrets. Yet;
  • Something like 600 miles on the rental Corolla; no sudden accelerations;
  • A serious shortage of fresh vegetables and salads. It’s hard to eat healthy on the road, especially in Florida, especially when you’re in ballparks all the time;
  • A good 15 anecdotes from writers I was told I couldn’t repeat, and a half dozen dirty jokes that I can repeat, but not on this website;
  • A distinct impression that, Joe Nathan’s injury aside, the Twins are going to be pretty good this year;
  • A distinct impression that the Red Sox, Rays and Phillies are going to do more or less what everyone expects of them;
  • A distinct impression that the Pirates may be even worse than people realize, even if they’re a little better off organizationally speaking now that they’ve accepted reality and allowed themselves to hit bottom;
  • A new found appreciation for how tough a job the beat writer has, especially the ones who have to deal with Tony La Russa every day;
  • An affirmation of what I’ve long suspected but never knew for sure before now: watching games from the press box, while interesting, is nowhere near as cool as watching games from the stands or, in some cases, your own living room;
  • An affirmation of what I’ve long suspected and pretty much knew for sure but was glad to have affirmed anyway: watching games from the press box is 100 times better than working in an office;
  • A chance meeting with the son of a famous, now-retired major league umpire, who is absolutely hilarious. The son, I mean. No idea if the umpire is hilarious, though I kinda doubt it.
  • The surprising realization that gang bangs really aren’t all that fun or, to be honest, satisfying.

Most of all, and most importantly, is that I got a much closer look at the way teams prepare and train for games, approach their jobs and execute in an up-close and personal fashion. There are so many little things you see while watching these guys that impact the way you view what they do on the field. No, not nearly as many as some crusty old beat writers will tell you — contrary to what some of them say, you don’t have to be on the field to understand the game — but enough stuff that I think it will better-inform my writing and analysis going forward.

Anyway, it was a good week. Hope you enjoyed the dispatches from the road. Assuming the content and sheer size of my reimbursement requests to NBC don’t get me fired, maybe we’ll do this from Arizona next spring.

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.