Twins, Mauer making progress in long-term talks

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According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, there are “strong indications” that the Twins and catcher Joe Mauer are “gathering momentum” toward a long-term contract extension.

Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, was spotted near the Twins’ spring training facility on Sunday afternoon and Olney has been picking up on hints of progress.  The 26-year-old catcher, widely regarded as one of the best all-around players in the league, is thought to be seeking a contract worth between $20 million-$25 million annually. 

Mauer posted an incredible .365/.444/.587 batting line last season while collecting 28 homers, 94 runs, 30 doubles and 96 RBI in 138 games.  He’s a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, a neighboring city to Minneapolis, but a hometown discount probably won’t be in the cards.  It’s Shaprio’s job to get the highest possible contract for his client and you can bet he’s doing his darnedest to pull that off.  Mauer has said previously that he would prefer to avoid the distractions of in-season negotiations, so Opening Day is serving as a loose deadline in the ongoing talks.

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.