Joe Mauer closes batting title gap on Miguel Cabrera with MLB-leading 22nd three-hit game

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For a while it looked like Miguel Cabrera’s biggest hurdle in claiming the triple crown would be topping Josh Hamilton in homers, but Joe Mauer has been on fire this month to close the gap in the batting average race.

Mauer had his MLB-leading 22nd three-hit game of the season last night and is now hitting .418 this month, bringing his overall batting average up to .326 compared to .329 for Cabrera.

Here are the MLB leaders in three-hit games:

Joe Mauer           22
Miguel Cabrera      21
Ryan Braun          18
Derek Jeter         18
Torii Hunter        18
Adrian Beltre       18
Andrew McCutchen    17
Michael Bourn       17

Everyone on that list is batting above .300 except for Bourn, who’s hitting just .274 but has come to the plate an MLB-high 690 times as the Braves’ leadoff man and did most of his damage in the first half.

As for Mauer, he’s already won batting average titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009 and his .324 career mark is second to only Albert Pujols at .325 among all active players. Mauer got off to a slow start following his injury wrecked 2011 season, but since carrying a .265 batting average on May 17 he’s hit .347 in 103 games.

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.