Red Sox groom RHP Michael Bowden for relief role

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With little relief available on the trade market at the moment, the Red Sox have decided to look within the organization for setup help. Long-time pitching prospect Michael Bowden was shifted from the rotation to the pen this week, with an eye towards a promotion to the majors after the All-Star break.
It certainly wasn’t a demotion for Bowden. His overall line for Triple-A Pawtucket isn’t particularly impressive — he’s 4-3 with a 3.77 ERA and a 59/29 K/BB ratio in 86 innings — but he had allowed just four runs over 28 innings in his last four starts.
Bowden’s upside, though, has always been questioned, even during the times in which he’s dominated in the minors. As a flyball pitcher with a modest strikeout rate, his margin for error is pretty small. His low-90s fastball, slider and changeup are all legitimate major league pitches, but he lacks a standout offering. That could change if a move to the pen results in an increase in velocity.
The Red Sox will probably have Bowden make 8-10 relief appearances for Pawtucket this month before deciding whether he’s ready to help the big-league club. If he impresses, it could allow the team to focus elsewhere when the trade deadline comes.

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.