Bryce Harper has a role model. Sure, that role model retired 15 years before Harper was born, but it’s a role model all the same:
Harper doesn’t plan to make any adjustments off the field. Known to speak his mind on Twitter, Harper plans to be himself. Harper is a sports history buff, and he would like to live his life the way Jets quarterback Joe Namath did during his heyday in the 1960s and early ’70s. Namath was known to be flamboyant off the field, but backed it up by having a Hall of Fame career.
Great, now we’re going to be inundated with stories about Harper filming remakes of “C.C. and Company” and making guest appearances on the “Flip Wilson Show.”
But let’s be clear about something: if you are inclined to cut Harper more slack now that he seems less willing to just be a punk kid but, rather, has a role model who lived large off the field but backed it up on the field, know that he called Namath’s era “back in the old days,” and his reminding us of how damn young he is while we grow ever-older is simply disrespectful.
“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.