Nelson Cruz to come off disabled list tomorrow

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One of the hottest hitters in baseball before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring injury late last month, Nelson Cruz avoided a setback during a brief rehab assignment at Triple-A and is expected to rejoin the Rangers’ lineup tomorrow.
Cruz told Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com that his time on the DL was “tough” and “boring” while adding that he’s “excited” to see what the Rangers’ lineup is capable of now that he’s back and Ian Kinsler is healthy. Prior to the injury Cruz hit .323 with seven homers and a 1.117 OPS in 19 games batting fifth in the lineup, but Kinsler has since claimed that spot and Cruz will move down to sixth in the order.
Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus has struggled to give the Rangers much production from the leadoff spot, but a two through six of Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Kinsler, and Cruz has a chance to do some major damage and rookie Justin Smoak gives them another potential big bat at No. 7.

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.