Yankees, Phillies going hard after Cuban OF Jorge Soler

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With Yoenis Cespedes officially signed and sealed by Oakland, the market for fellow Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler is really beginning to heat up. And two early front-running suitors have been identified.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the teams “in hardest on” the 19-year-old Soler at this time are the Yankees and Phillies. The Blue Jays had a private workout in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday morning with Soler and the Orioles are scheduled to meet with him Sunday. The Red Sox, Cubs and White Sox have also been linked.

Soler has yet to establish residency in the Dominican and must do so before being granted free agency by Major League Baseball. But it appears the courting process is already well underway. He won’t top Cespedes’ four-year, $36 million deal in total value, but Soler does seem likely to beat him in length.

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.