Aside from reporting to camp in “The Best Shape Of His Life” shaving your head for charity might be the biggest trend of spring training this year.
Jose Reyes did it first, live on MLB Network no less, and then Josh Johnson did it with considerably less fanfare. And now Rays manager Joe Maddon is joining the fun in the name of raising money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children’s Hospital.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Maddon will shave his head Thursday and “will encourage other players, coaches and team officials to do so as well.”
Or as Maddon put it: “It’s under the heading, fortune favors the bald.”
Third base coach Tom Foley and bench coach Dave Martinez are already on board, although presumably Martinez’s spectacular mountain-man beard will be staying put.
“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.