HBT Weekend Wrapup

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Between legitimate distractions and frivolous ones, it was a hard weekend to concentrate on baseball news. Thankfully, aside from the usual injury stuff you see this time of year, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of it.  The highlights:

  • Ruben Amaro gets a four year extension. And he was so slick about it that Phillies ownership didn’t know they were even giving it to him until the papers had already been signed. He’s that good.
  • Major League Soccer thinks the Wilpons would make great owners. I’d crack wise here, but given that just about every MLS team’s entire payroll runs to around what the Mets are paying Mike Pelfrey, I figure that even the Wilpons could swing it.
  • The Nationals apparently feel that Bryce Harper is not quite ready to have somebody else carry his bags, to hit white balls for batting practice, to play in ballparks that are like cathedrals, to stay in hotels that have room service, to be around women with long legs and brains and, most importantly, to face pitchers who throw ungodly breaking stuff, exploding sliders.
  • The Bergen record reports that Johan Santana will miss all of 2011. The Mets and Santana say that the Bergen Record is lying.  In other news the Mets stand by their denial that Kelvim Escobar is unable to grip a baseball and anticipate his first action of 2010 any day now.
  • The Red Sox indicate that Diasuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield could be had in a trade. In other news, I’m selling some real estate on which I speculated in the Las Vegas suburbs in 2006 and an old truck I drove into the ground for the past 20 years. Tailgate is broken. Serious inquiries only, please.
  • Bengie Molina is basically retired, but he’ll consider a comeback if the right opportunity comes along. He’s a good candidate for that seeing as though “getting back into playing shape” is more of a theoretical concept for him.
  • Mitchell Page enters baseball Valhalla. He hit .307/.405/.521 in 592 plate appearances in 1977. That was a better OPS than Reggie Jackson and George Brett had that year.

And into the week we go.

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.