Another Yankees pitcher shoots for history

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Mariano Rivera’s saves record is a forgone conclusion. A.J. Burnett probably won’t break a record this year, but he will come pretty close:

Burnett already has 23 wild pitches this year, which puts him on a historic pace. Since 1901, only five pitchers have finished a season with more than 23 wild pitches, led by Red Ames’s 30 for the Giants in 1905. Since World War I, only three players have surpassed Burnett’s wild pitch total.

And of course all of those pre-WWI catchers were using mitts made out of, I dunno, passenger pigeon down and elephant ivory or whatever, so their numbers may have been inflated.

In Burnett’s defense, they used to actually call a lot of passed balls in this game, but seem way less likely to do it in recent years.  Burnett is not a victim of his catchers, of course, but he’s not getting a ton of help from them either.

Anyway, history is always fun to watch.

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.