The Mariners originally expressed optimism that David Aardsma would be ready for the start of the season after hip surgery, but general manager Jack Zduriencik told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times yesterday that the surgery was more extensive than first expected and that the right-hander might not be ready for Opening Day.
Aardsma, who turned 29 last month, has a 2.92 ERA and 129/59 K/BB ratio over the past two seasons with the Mariners, where he has spent the majority of the time as the team’s closer. The Mariners were reportedly shopping the arbitration-eligible reliever around the time of the Winter Meetings, but those efforts will be put on the back burner for now.
Brandon League should be the favorite to handle save opportunities in Aardsma’s absence. League, who turns 28 in March, posted a 3.42 ERA and 56/27 K/B ratio over 79 innings last season. He led all American League relievers with a ground ball rate of 62.8 percent.
“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.