Joe Mauer’s rehab progresses to extended spring training

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There’s still no timetable for his return from bilateral leg weakness, but Joe Mauer is taking a significant step in his recovery by reporting to extended spring training in Florida.

For now he’ll merely work out in Fort Myers alongside Jim Thome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, building up strength in his surgically repaired knee after admitting that beginning the season on the active roster was a mistake.

Being without Mauer for all but nine games has obviously contributed to the Twins’ horrendous start, but his backups hitting like pitchers has compounded the problem further. As a group Minnesota catchers have hit .139 with zero homers and a .358 OPS. NL pitchers are hitting .137 with a .338 OPS.

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.