Highlights from the 2013 MLB schedule

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MLB released its 2013 schedule with a couple of surprises today. One nice one: a scheduled doubleheader between the Rangers and Diamondbacks on Memorial Day (May 27).

As expected, Opening Day will revert back to Monday next year after midweek openers the last two seasons. There are currently 12 games slated for April 1, including a Red Sox-Yankees matchup and an interleague game featuring the Angels and Reds. After the World Series, ESPN will pick one of those 12 games to move up to Sunday night for its season kickoff.

The Astros will play their first game as an American League team when they host the Rangers on on April 2. It’s the shift of the Astros to the AL, creating two 15-team leagues, that will necessitate daily interleague games throughout the season. However, MLB has still scheduled a chunk of interleague play around the Memorial Day holiday. That week will feature some very unusual back-to-back two-game series between rivals.

As such, the Mets will host the Yankees on Monday and Tuesday and then go to Yankee Stadium for games Wednesday and Thursday. Similar arrangements will play out between the Cubs and White Sox; the Red Sox and Phillies; the Angels and Dodgers; the Orioles and Nationals; and the Giants and A’s, as well as others.

That every division will now have five teams makes for a particularly challenging schedule. Yet MLB has done its best to close the season with as many divisional matchups as possible (which is 12). Next year’s season-ending series will include Angels-Rangers, Red Sox-Orioles, Rockies-Dodgers, Phillies-Braves, Padres-Giants and Cubs-Cardinals. The Yankees will get the Astros to finish the season, while the Tigers will face the Marlins in the final interleague series.

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.