For the second straight season a spring training injury has put Brewers prospect Mat Gamel’s chances of cracking the Opening Day roster in jeopardy.
Last spring a shoulder injury caused Gamel to begin the season on the disabled list and he ended up spending nearly the entire year at Triple-A, getting just 15 at-bats with the Brewers.
This time around he has a strained oblique muscle and the Brewers will shut him down for at least seven days and perhaps significantly longer given how much that type of injury tends to linger.
If healthy Gamel is expected to serve as a utility man this season, drawing starts at the infield and outfield corners while trying to show that he’s capable of stepping into the lineup full time at first base next season if/when Prince Fielder departs via trade or free agency.
Gamel has consistently posted strong numbers at Triple-A and held his own in a 61-game stint with the Brewers in 2009, but his shaky defense at third base caused him to fall behind Casey McGehee on the depth chart and Fielder’s presence across the diamond along with Ryan Braun and Corey Hart being entrenched in the outfield corners has left the 25-year-old former top prospect without an obvious spot in the lineup.
“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.