Nolan Ryan says Josh Hamilton picked the wrong time to stop dipping

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Nolan Ryan spoke with ESPN Dallas about Josh Hamilton’s late season struggles.  Ryan beat back the notion that Josh Hamilton somehow quit on the team — which should go without saying, but whatever — and noted that to the extent he had issues late, it was because he was simply in an unfamiliar situation and didn’t quite know how to respond.

That seems reasonable. This, less so:

“His timing on quitting smokeless tobacco couldn’t have been worse. You would’ve liked to have thought that if he was going to do that that he would’ve done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it. So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time that he did quit, you’d have liked that he would’ve taken a different approach to that. So those issues caused unrest, and it’s unfortunate that it happened and the timing was such as it was.”

He may be right that quitting affected Hamilton adversely, but given that Major League Baseball is trying to get players to stop using smokeless tobacco right now, banning it in the minors and fining guys who use it conspicuously in the bigs, someone at the league office probably won’t care too much for this sentiment.

Seems to me that there’s never a bad time to quit a bad habit. If the baseball suffers, it suffers. Life and health is more important.

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.