Kimbrel Unit malfunctions, Cards beat Braves in 10

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Someone had better perform a level 2 diagnostic on the Kimbrel Unit’s positronic net, because the results it achieved last night were well outside normal operating parameters.

The Braves were up 3-1 on the Cards heading into the bottom of the ninth last night when Craig Kimbrel, perhaps the most automatic thing in baseball this year, was called into the game to close it out.  Things didn’t go according to plan, however. This is what happened:

  • Skip Schumaker singled;
  • Rafael Furcal walked;
  • Ryan Theriot walked; and then
  • Albert Pujols singled in two runs.

Two of these hitters didn’t have much business touching Kimbrel, but that’s baseball for you. As for Pujols, I officially join all of those crazy Brewers fans who hate Albert Pujols. You were right all along, people.

OK, that’s not fair, he was just being himself. But I’m watchin’ you, Albert. Watchin’ you real close.

Anyway, with the game tied they headed to the 10th because that’s what the rules say you have to do. After the Braves went down 1-2-3, Fredi Gonzalez called on Scott Linebrink, because the rule book also says that you can’t use your best available pitcher on the road in a tie game. And that’s a rule backed by science and geometric logic. Linebrink gave up singles to Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, a sac bunt moved them up to second and third and then Nick Punto — the most dangerous man in baseball — hit a sac fly to center, scoring Holliday. Ballgame.

So, here we are: The Braves have a 6.5 game lead on the Cardinals in the wild card with 18 games to play for the Cards and 17 for the Braves.  I am not sweating yet. Not really. Like I said yesterday: if the Cardinals sweep, I sweat. If they don’t, the worst case is that the Braves keep that 6.5 game lead leaving St. Louis with 16/15 to play.  I think that’s insurmountable. At least I’m pretty sure it is.

It is, right? Please?

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.