On a night when the Twins honored the greatest slugger in team history, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Thome returned from the disabled list after missing three weeks with an oblique injury and hit the 592nd and 593rd homers of his career.
Throughout his 21 seasons Thome has homered once every 21 at-bats versus left-handed pitchers compared to once every 11 at-bats against right-handed pitchers, but both of last night’s bombs came versus southpaws.
Thome is now seven homers away from becoming the eighth player to join the 600-homer club and 16 homers away from tying Sammy Sosa for seventh on the all-time list with 609 long balls.
Moving up any further than that is likely out of the question, at least for this year, but Thome already ranks fourth all time among left-handed hitters behind only Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Ken Griffey Jr.
“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.