Heath Bell blew another save last night, coughing up his fourth lead in seven tries, and afterward manager Ozzie Guillen finally seemed ready to make a change at closer after previously saying he’d stick with Bell through the struggles:
We’ll check tomorrow about what’s going to be the situation with the closer. We’ve got to do something about it. We can’t be waiting anymore. Tomorrow we might talk to him about the situation. If we’re going to be in the pennant race, he’s got to be better. Tomorrow we’ll have a better idea what to do with him.
If there’s any good news to be had within Bell’s performance it’s that he isn’t getting clobbered, allowing just one homer in 53 plate appearances. Unfortunately everything else is bad news, as he’s allowed a .385 batting average while walking 10 batters in 8.2 innings and has managed just six strikeouts. Oh, and his ERA is 11.42.
Bell’s strikeout rate dropping from 11.1 per nine innings to 7.3 per nine innings last season certainly hinted at a decline in raw stuff, particularly at age 34, but obviously a total collapse was unexpected following a season in which he saved 43 games with a 2.44 ERA.
Edward Mujica gives Guillen a good fallback option at closer, as he’s logged 252 innings with a 3.54 ERA and fantastic 217/43 K/BB ratio since 2009, but with Bell one month into a three-year, $27 million contract a long-term switch will be tough.
“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.