Strasburg was able to play catch on Sunday morning

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We’ve been tracking Stephen Strasburg news all morning and will continue to do so this week as the Nationals make an important decision on his immediate future with the club.

Strasburg, 22, was lifted from his start against the Phillies on Saturday night after feeling pain in his right elbow during a fifth-inning pitch to outfielder Domonic Brown.  He was later diagnosed with a strain of the flexor tendon in his forearm, but all signs so far point to him being just fine.

According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, the right-hander played catch on Sunday morning before heading back to Washington, D.C. for an MRI.  The results of that examination will determine whether he is shut down for the rest of 2010 or kept active.  But he did play catch, and that’s a major positive.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo denied a report from Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus stating that the team has already decided to shut Strasburg down.  For what it’s worth, we’re finding it hard to believe that the kid is going to throw another pitch this season.  Even if everything checks out fine, he topped out at 109 innings last year with San Diego State and is up to 123.1 total frames between the minors and majors this season.  Strasburg is too valuable to that organization in the long term and, for all intents and purposes, 2010 is a done deal for the Nats.

The D.C. medical staff would be wise to tell the young phenom to shut it down and aim to get himself back to full health by the start of spring training next February.

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.