Is Andruw Jones back?

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Andruw Jones White Sox.jpgThe White Sox’ Andruw Jones has gotten off to a fantastic start: .292/.404/.708 with six home runs, including the walkoff job on Friday night.  Is the guy who once wowed us with his defense back to being a productive player after years in the wilderness?

Not so fast says FanGraph’s R.J. Anderson, who notes that his quick start is most likely a function of some luck on balls in play and a home run friendly park. His last line tells you all you need to know about how Anderson feels about Jones: “He’s just an aging slugger using his bat to prop the casket lid open.” Ouch.

While I want to be optimistic about Jones because (a) I vividly remember when he didn’t suck; and (b) he actually got into pretty good shape this winter, and maybe that will make a lasting difference, we’re clearly into “I’ll believe it when I see it” territory with the guy.  After all, he started out even hotter for the Rangers last April: .344/.523/.781. The rest of the year? Miserable. A blip of eight homers in July gave him a slugging-heavy .934 OPS that month, but otherwise he was terrible.

So many people wanted to believe that he was back in 2009. I imagine a lot of people want to believe the same thing this year. Until he puts up another month or two of good performance, however, we shouldn’t be buyin’ what he’s sellin’.

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.