Report: Ryan Madson, Heath Bell won’t cost draft picks

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The story is still developing, but according to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the top relievers left on the market will not require draft-pick compensation once the new CBA goes into effect next week.

Ryan Madson, Heath Bell and Francisco Rodriguez are among the relievers to be affected by the change.

Rosenthal says the Phillies will still have to surrender their first-round pick for signing Jonathan Papelbon. Also, top free agents like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and David Ortiz will continue to cost a first-round pick to sign. However, lesser former Type A free agents will no longer cost a pick. Instead, new draft picks will be created to provide compensation for the teams losing free agents.

This would seem to rate as very good news for the Red Sox, Blue Jays and anyone else who might be looking to pick up a closer. Certainly Madson and Bell are going to be more attractive to Boston and Toronto now that neither will cost a first-round pick.

It’s also good news for those players, as well as fellow Type A free agents Francisco Cordero, Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel. Now, neither Capps nor Dotel was likely to be offered arbitration anyway, so they weren’t really going to cost their signing teams a free agent. But at least this means they have the opportunity to sign with teams now rather than waiting until the arbitration deadline.

According to Rosenthal, this winter’s effort is primarily a stopgap measure. For 2012 and beyond, the Elias Rankings will be abolished and teams will have to make qualifying offers (reportedly north of $12 million per year) in order to receive compensation for free agents who leave.

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.