Carlos Pena is the starting first baseman for a team that wants to make the playoffs. Carlos Pena is hitting .188/.318/.339. Teams that make the playoffs usually don’t have starting first basemen who hit .188/.318/.339. Ergo:
Manager Joe Maddon made a point to say there still will be days Carlos Peña plays first base. But he made it clear Thursday that Peña is not going to play nearly as much, with the job now to be shared three ways.
Marc Topkin reports that the new arrangement will be Jeff Keppinger playing first base regularly against left-handers with Luke Scott sharing time with Pena against righties.
Pena is 0 for his last 17 as the Rays have been shut out six times in August. That doesn’t play, even if you can occasionally hit one out of the park. The fact that he’s losing time to Luke Scott, who hasn’t been great shakes this year himself, tells you all you need to know.
“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.