Carlos Beltran homers twice, drives in seven runs

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Albert Pujols remains homerless for the Angels, but the man signed to replace him in the Cardinals’ lineup went deep twice yesterday and drove in seven runs.

Carlos Beltran now has seven homers in 23 games for St. Louis, and he’s hitting .279 with a .398 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage to essentially match last season’s excellent production for the Mets and Giants.

Those numbers can’t match vintage Pujols production, but his .933 OPS is nearly double Pujols’ current .539 mark and Beltran looks like an absolute bargain on a two-year, $26 million deal. And perhaps most importantly he’s been healthy, starting his 17th straight game last night and, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports, talking his way into the lineup when manager Mike Matheny wanted to give him a day off.

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.