Report: Pirates will fire Russell, keep Huntington

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The Pirates are ready for change.  Again.

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette heard from “several internal sources” this weekend that the Bucs will cut ties with manager John Russell soon after the offseason hits.  GM Neal Huntington, though, is thought to be safe.

Russell’s contract runs through 2011, but the Pirates have 104 losses this season and could wind up with 105 if things don’t go well in Sunday’s regular season finale against the Marlins.  Barely any of the poor play can be blamed on Russell, but this is professional sports.  Major League Baseball is a what have you done for me lately kind of place.  The captain must go down with the ship.  Pick your cliche.

Russell offered some words of optimism after Saturday’s game when asked to review the 2010 season, highlighting the play of youngsters like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen.  It won’t be enough to save his job, apparently, but Russell is right — there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the Pirates.

“The
thing I look at most is how we developed our young players,” Russell
replied. “I can’t remember since I’ve been here where we’ve had
four-plus guys who can drive in runs for us. We’ve always had one or
two, but you look at Walker, Pedro, Jones, McCutchen … it’s exciting
to see. I think our offense is starting to get some type of identity
where we can score runs now and, if we get good pitching, we’ve got a
pretty good chance to win.”

Russell currently stands 186-298 as a manager and will probably struggle to find a head job in the near future.

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.