As tempting as it is to blame Fredi Gonzalez for managing a winner-take-all game as if it were just another regular-season game or umpire Sam Holbrook for his brutal infield-fly call, the fact that the Braves lost to the Cardinals 6-3 on Friday can be chalked up to poor defense from a team that made the fewest errors in the National League this year.
– Up 2-0, third baseman Chipper Jones threw a potential double-play ball over the head of Dan Uggla and into right field in the fourth inning, opening the door for the Cardinals to score three runs.
– Second baseman Dan Uggla bobbled and then threw away David Freese’s grounder with the Braves down 4-2. Freese took second on the play.
– After a sac bunt advanced the pinch-runner, Pete Kozma hit a grounder to shortstop. Andrelton Simmons bobbled the ball and then foolishly threw home anyway. Not only did the run score, but Kozma was able to go to second when the throw went wide.
– It wasn’t an error, but the Cards scored again in the seventh to go up 6-2 when a Matt Carpenter swinging bunt turned into an infield single and an RBI, as Kozma scored from second after pitcher Jonny Venters missed the tag and had his momentum carry him past the first base line.
Atlanta went on to lose from there despite outhitting the Cardinals 12-6 and outwalking them 3-0. This one isn’t on Gonzalez or Holbrook; it’s all on the Braves.
“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.