Martin catches four innings of minor league game

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martin headshot.JPGRussell Martin, slowed early in camp by a pulled groin, caught four innings of a minor league game on Thursday and reported no pain or discomfort, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez.

The outing went so well, in fact, that he’s already slated to catch six innings of a Triple-A exhibition game on Friday afternoon.  Martin compiled an ugly .250/.352/.329 batting line last season with just seven home runs and 53
RBI in 505 at-bats.  He’s hoping to turn his career around this year and expects to be ready by the start of the regular season. 

If it doesn’t work out, and he’s not available on Opening Day, look for 28-year-old A.J. Ellis and 40-year-old veteran Brad Ausmus to split time behind the plate in his absence.

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.