One of the reasons the Rays have had such a hard go of it lately has been that their best hitter — Evan Longoria — is really fighting it. He went 0 for 5 in last night’s loss to the Padres and he’s 4 for his last 31 in his last eight games.
As Tony Fabrizio of the Tampa Tribune notes in his game story this morning, Longoria grounded into a double play with two
on in the third, stranded six runners in all, and then topped the night off by striking out to end the game with the tying run at first base.
Longoria will get better, of course, because he is better. But one thing is clear: the Rays’ skid is not just a function of happenstance. They’ve been putting in a full-team’s effort worth of stink lately.
“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.