The 2011 Braves are really freakin slow

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33 games into the season, the Braves are a remarkable 5-for-15 stealing bases. Now they’re not the only team in single digits when it comes to steals: the Cubs have just one more stolen base on the season. But to have been caught on two-thirds of their attempts makes this an historically awful start.

The Braves are currently on pace for 25 steals, which would be the lowest total since the Mets had 25 in 1994. The last team to finish with fewer than 25 steals were the 1973 Pirates, with 23.

Of course, the Braves aren’t really that bad. But unless they pick it up, they will join this list of the teams with the worst steal percentages since 2005:

Nationals 2005: 45/45 – 50.0%
Athletics 2005: 31/22 – 58.5%
Braves 2006: 52/35 – 59.8%
Tigers 2006: 60/40 – 60.0%
Royals 2005: 53/33 – 61.6%
Cubs 2009: 56/34 – 62.2%
Dodgers 2005: 58/35 – 62.4%
Cubs 2005: 65/39 – 62.5%
Indians 2007: 72/41 – 62.8%
Cardinals 2007: 56/33 – 62.9%
Rockies 2006: 85/50 – 63.0%
Giants 2010: 55/32 – 63.2%
Indians 2005: 62/36 – 63.3%
White Sox 2007: 78/45 – 63.4%
Cubs 2010: 55/31 – 63.9%
Royals 2007: 78/44 – 63.9%

The 2011 White Sox are also threatening an appearance, thanks largely to Juan Pierre’s awful start. They’re 18-for-36 stealing bases in the early going.

It’s hard to imagine the Braves finishing short of 30 steals, but they might fail to reach 40 unless they bring in some speed later on. The last team to steal fewer than 40 bases was the 2008 Padres.

Of course, the Braves can take heart that a team doesn’t need to be particularly good at stealing bases to win. Note the presence of the 2010 Giants on the list above.

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.