Drew Butera is chasing the wrong kind of history

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Twins catcher Drew Butera isn’t in the majors for his bat. Or for really any reason I can tell. But there he was in Minnesota’s lineup for the 57th time this season on Thursday, and he ended up 0-for-4 in a 6-1 loss to the Orioles. He’s 6-for-55 since the All-Star break, and he’s hitting just .160 for the season.

With Thursday’s game, Butera reached 200 plate appearances for the season.  Here are all of the players since 1961 to hit .160 or worse in at least 200 plate appearances:

1. Roy Oyler: .135 in 247 PA (1968 Tigers)
2. Brandon Wood: .146 in 243 PA (2010 Angels)
3. Bob Uecker: .150 in 221 PA (1967 Phillies & Braves)
4. Jim Mason: .152 in 251 PA (1975 Yankees)
5. Al Weis: .155 in 213 PA (1966 White Sox)
6. Nate Colbert: .156 in 260 PA (1975 Tigers & Expos)
7. Dick Tracewski: .156 in 240 PA (1968 Tigers)
8. Andruw Jones: .158 in 238 PA (2008 Dodgers)
9. Ken Williams: .159 in 243 PA (1988 White Sox)
10. Gus Triandos: .159 in 237 PA (1962 Orioles)

So, unless the Twins find themselves a new backup catcher tomorrow, Butera could well become the first player since 1975 to hit .160 or worse in at least 250 plate appearances.  Greg Vaughn’s .163 in 297 plate appearances for the 2002 Rays is the worst mark since.

Of course, Adam Dunn, with his .165 average in 431 plate appearances, could also have something to say about all of this.

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.