Beimel has elbow discomfort, doubtful for Opening Day

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It sounds like Pirates left-hander Joe Beimel is going to be unavailable when the Bucs’ regular season kicks off on April 1.

Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Beimel had to be scratched from a one-inning outing against the Red Sox on Sunday due to discomfort in his throwing elbow.

This discomfort isn’t new. Beimel first began feeling tightness in his forearm on March 1 and was shut down for almost two weeks. He returned for a Grapefruit League appearance on March 14 and pitched again on March 17, but he reported renewed soreness when he arrived back at Pirates camp on the morning of March 18. That soreness continues to linger.

“I’m not sure what to say about that at this point,” Beimel told the Tribune-Review on Sunday. “It’s definitely frustrating. I want to be out there pitching. But at the same time, I don’t want to push it too hard to get ready for Opening Day and have a setback and be out for a lot longer. It’s better to take care of it now and go from there.”

The Pirates signed Beimel to a minor league contract this winter that carries a potential $1.75 million salary. He turned in a 3.40 ERA and held left-handed batters to a .653 OPS in 71 appearances last season for the Rockies. When healthy and when used correctly, he can be a fairly useful bullpen tool.

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.