Apparently serving as the Phillies’ closer is hazardous to your health.
Brad Lidge has been on the disabled list all season with a shoulder injury, shortly after replacing him in the ninth inning Jose Contreras was shut down with an elbow injury, and now Ryan Madson has been put on the shelf with a bruised hand.
Madson thrived in the closer role, converting 15-of-16 saves with a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings despite oft-repeated doubts about his ability to handle ninth-inning duties.
Contreras recently suffered a setback that will likely keep him out until August, but Lidge is nearing a return and could be ready before the All-Star break. Madson’s stint is backdated and while the numbness he’s experienced is scary it sounds like the Phillies don’t expect him to miss much time, so he could be back as soon as next week. In the meantime Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that “Antonio Bastardo likely becomes the new closer.”
“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.