Nationals finalize one-year contract with Todd Coffey

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Reported to be close to a deal last week, Todd Coffey and the Nationals have finalized a one-year contract worth $1.35 million.

Coffey was non-tendered by the Brewers last month after earning $2.025 million in 2010, so Milwaukee accurately determined that his market value wasn’t quite that high. Still, he’s a solid middle reliever and the Nationals are getting a nice bargain.

Coffey posted a 3.52 ERA and 128/46 K/BB ratio in 153 innings during three seasons with the Brewers and has a good fastball-slider combo that induces more than 50 percent ground balls. He’ll out-perform several relievers who got multi-year deals this offseason.

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.