Former Red Sox ace Mel Parnell dies of cancer at 89

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Mel Parnell, who spent his entire big-league career with the Red Sox and led the American League in wins with 25 in 1949, passed away Tuesday at age 89 following a long battle with cancer.

Parnell’s 123 wins were the most by a Red Sox left-hander. Besides his 25-win season in 1949, he finished with 21 wins in 1953 and 18 in both 1950 and ’51. Known for his screwball, he hurt his arm in 1954 at age 32 and never pitched another full season, though he did pitch a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1956, his last year in the big leagues.

He talked about the no-hitter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2002:

This is something a pitcher dreams of. You never expect it to happen.

On that particular day, I had a very good screwball. My slider was working good. That gave me pitches that I could work in and out on hitters. I pretty much was able to get the ball right where I wanted it with each pitch, and things fell in line for me.

Parnell, who briefly worked as a Red Sox broadcaster in the 1960s, was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.

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.