Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman are “close to a resolution” on contract extension

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UPDATE: Apparently general manager Mike Rizzo wasn’t kidding about “working extremely hard” on an extension with Zimmerman, because Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that the two sides are “close to a resolution.”

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Ryan Zimmerman has said that he won’t negotiate a long-term contract extension once spring training is over, so the Nationals are making a strong push to get something done before then.

General manager Mike Rizzo told Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com that “we’re working extremely hard at it, and both teams want something and are working at it.”

Rizzo added that he’s “hopeful” about an agreement being reached, although with Zimmerman under team control for 2012 and 2013 at a total cost of $27 million the Opening Day deadline doesn’t carry quite as much weight as it would if he were 162 games away from free agency.

If they can’t reach a deal now the Nationals can always give it another try next winter, although if Zimmerman stays healthy and has a big season the leverage and price tags might be very different.

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.