Pirates promoting top prospect Starling Marte to majors

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The Pirates tried to hold off as long as they could, but they will finally promote their top position prospect, Starling Marte, to the majors for Thursday’s game, Piratesprospects.com’s Kristy Robinson reports.

Marte’s arrival has been anticipated ever since the disappointing Jose Tabata was sent down. After a brilliant spring, Marte struggled in Triple-A early on, hitting .256 with four homers in 176 at-bats through the end of May. However, he’s been much better of late, batting .313 with eight homers in 208 at-bats since the beginning of June.

The 23-year-old Marte is still something of a raw talent; his lack of strike zone judgment is a problem and his speed hasn’t made him a very good basestealer. Defensively, he often shows outstanding ability in center field, but he also takes bad routes on occasion. The Pirates will likely use him in left field most of the time for now.

The pluses are obvious: Marte makes a lot of hard contact and can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples with his speed. He could give the Pirates offense quite a lift if he can manage to lay off quality major league breaking balls. It’s definitely time the team gives him a try.

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.