Shelby Miller, the Cardinals’ No. 1 pitching prospect, had more on his mind last week than getting ready to pitch in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game. His father was a fellow firefighter and a good friend of Shannon Stone, who passed away Thursday night after tumbling over a railing at Rangers Ballpark, and he got the news after Thursday’s game.
“He was an awesome guy,” Miller said. “He was at my game in Frisco and just really a good person.
“Having it happen to him is just tough.”
Mitch Miller and Stone worked together for more than a decade in Brownwood, Texas, and Shelby said both of his parents would attend Monday’s funeral.
“I can’t weep over it or do anything that’s going to keep me from performing well or something like that,” he said after pitching Sunday night. “It’s definitely in the back of your mind. You think about it, and then you get down, and then you just try to forget about it and it’s not easy. It’s something I’m going to have to get through, me and my family are going to have to get through and the Stones are going to have to get through.”
“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.