Opening Day in the minor leagues

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With the minor league season starting today, Baseball America has released a list of where its top 100 prospects will open the season.
Among those skipping levels this year are Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and Astros right-hander Jordan Lyles, both of whom are moving from low-A ball right to Double-A.
It’s not surprising in either case. Lyles actually probably would have spent a portion of last year in high-A under normal circumstances, but the Astros’ Lancaster affiliate in the California League is a horrible place for pitchers.
Also notable is that two of the Rays’ top prospects are starting the year on the DL. Both outfielder Desmond Jennings and shortstop Tim Beckham are dealing with wrist injuries. Jennings, who could be the team’s center fielder next year, is expected to join Triple-A Durham later this month. Beckham, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, is slated to play for high-A Charlotte once healthy.
Finally, Stephen Strasburg is set to make his debut for Double-A Harrisburg on Sunday, with ESPNews providing live coverage.

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.