Joey Votto returns to Reds lineup for first time since July

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Joey Votto returned from the disabled list yesterday, but wasn’t in the Reds’ starting lineup and didn’t appear in the game off the bench.

That all changes this afternoon, as Votto officially completes his comeback from knee surgery by being in the lineup for the first time since July 15.

It’ll be interesting to see how often (and how well) Votto plays down the stretch, because Todd Frazier’s emergence in his absence leaves manager Dusty Baker with some tough lineup decisions and Votto admitted yesterday that he’s returning despite not being 100 percent healthy.

For today’s game Votto is starting at first base and batting third, while Frazier is starting at third base with Scott Rolen on the bench.

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.