The deadline to sign Albert Pujols is a little earlier than we thought

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It was reported last month that Albert Pujols and his agent Dan Lozano would cut off contract talks with the Cardinals if an extension wasn’t reached by spring training. We have been operating under the assumption that his self-imposed deadline was going to be February 19. Turns out he’ll be an early arrival.

ESPN.com and Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports both reported this afternoon that Pujols will report to spring training on February 16, three days earlier than his original reported deadline.

Craig asked a little bit earlier if we could glean anything from a report that the Cardinals have yet to make an offer for Pujols. He even wondered if perhaps Pujols and/or his agent are beginning to leak information in order to put some public pressure on the Cardinals. We’re not privy to whether the Cardinals were aware of this new deadline prior to this information being reported this afternoon, but moving up the deadline could certainly do the trick.

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.