The A’s needed seven games to beat these Tigers

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It’s not complicated: the A’s would have been a whole lot better off this week having to face Justin Verlander twice in seven games than twice in five games.

And just as it’s always been, it’s absurd that MLB starts off the postseason with a best-of-five round before moving on to two best-of-sevens.

Given time to set their rotation, the Tigers are obviously a more dangerous team in a five-game series than a seven-game series. It’s not that the rest of their rotation is bad, but Verlander in 40 percent of the games works a whole lot better than throwing him in 29 percent of the games.

The A’s couldn’t beat Verlander, and they couldn’t sweep the other three games. There’s a good chance they would have lost a seven-game series, too, but at least that would have been the fair fight. In six trips to the playoffs under Billy Beane, the A’s have five ALDS losses, all of them 3 games to 2. They had to face Roger Clemens twice in two of them and Pedro Martinez twice in another.

If there’s one thing that’s already been made obvious this postseason, it’s that no team is head-and-shoulder above the rest. It’s never made any sense to let five games decide one round and seven the others, particularly since so many of these LDS matchups seem just as evenly matched as any series that will be encountered later on. Perhaps a second straight ALDS loss for the Yankees would increase momentum for the extra 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.