Kyle Blanks showed immense potential as a 22-year-old rookie in 2009, smacking 10 homers with an .868 OPS in 54 games after joining the Padres in mid-June, but he hit just .157 through 33 games last year before undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery shortly after the All-Star break.
Blanks dropped 10 pounds from his 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame during the offseason and arrived at Padres camp a week early, but told Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune that he’s highly unlikely to be ready for Opening Day:
Right now, it’s health and rehab first and playing second. Realistically, it’s a long shot that I would be ready to play on Opening Day and I’m not even thinking about that. I’m at the point of my rehab that I’m hitting three days a week and playing catch three days a week. This type of rehab is a process that you can’t speed up.
Once he’s healthy the Padres figure to work Blanks back into the lineup slowly, perhaps giving him starts in place of Brad Hawpe or Will Venable against left-handed pitching. He remains a big part of the long-term lineup, but counting on Blanks making a major contribution in the first half would probably be optimistic.
“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.