Ryan Braun hits three homers then settles for a triple

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Ryan Braun hit three homers and then tripled at Petco Park in leading the Brewers to an 8-3 win over the Padres on Monday.

Braun struggled this spring while dealing with a possible 50-game steroids suspension that was later overturned, but he’s been locked in since Opening Day. He’s now tied for second in the NL in homers with seven. Only Matt Kemp, who was the runner up to Braun in the MVP balloting last year, tops that total, though he has 12 already.

With the three homers and a triple, Braun became the first major leaguer to amass 15 total bases in a game since Boston’s Dustin Pedroia against the Rockies on June 24, 2010. The previous National Leaguer to do it was Albert Pujols on July 20, 2004. Curtis Granderson just missed with his three-homer game earlier this season; he also had two singles, giving him 14 total bases in the contest.

Braun also tied his career high with six RBI in the contest. It was his first career three-homer game. The Brewers actually had three three-homer games last year: one each from Corey Hart, Casey McGehee and Prince Fielder. Going into 2011, they hadn’t had one since 2003.

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.