Washupdate: Benson signs with Dbacks; Villone released by Nats

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And now the latest from the world of pitchers who people kinda thought were good a few years ago:

  • Kris Benson has signed with the Diamondbacks. It’s a minor league deal. If he makes the club he’ll get $650,000 plus games-started incentives.  This is obviously Brandon Webb insurance. Which is probably a better situation for Benson than signing a minor league deal elsewhere (the Nats were vaguely interested a few weeks ago). With Webb likely starting the season on the DL he stands a good chance of making the team and getting a chance to audition for a another job if and when the Dbacks are done with him; also
  • The Nationals have released Ron Villone. Between this and the Eddie Guerrero Guardado thing (sorry; wrestling on the mind today), it’s been a rough week for ancient lefties in Nats camp. Villone, you no doubt recall, was named in the Mitchell Report and famously refused to respond to the allegations. No doubt the Nats’ decision to release him was based on part of the ongoing “Ron Villone must come clean” media circus.

Wow, quite a day for journeyman pitchers. We’re one Jarrod Washburn rumor away from a palooka trifecta!  Zoinks!

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.