A-Rod: not hitting, but still trying to score

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This may be the most New York Post story ever:

After being replaced in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the highest-paid Yankee openly flirted with a pair of pretty women two rows behind the dugout — even sending them a ball bearing a note asking for their phone numbers, a witness told The Post.

“I watched him flirt with two admittedly very cute young women nearby,’’ the witness said.

But see, that part of it is actually fun. Here’s the part that makes it New York Posty:

Instead of rooting on his teammates as they struggled to stay alive during the tense game at Yankee Stadium, A-Rod, 37, had a ball boy toss the young women a baseball inscribed with a message asking for their numbers … Fans sitting behind the dugout at Saturday’s game said they were disgusted after witnessing A-Rod’s shenanigans, which were more befitting a sixth-grader than a serious ballplayer.

There is a fabulously indignant quote about it from some anonymous fan too, which sounds so spot-on perfect in its flabbergasted outrage that I’d be shocked if the person who gave it wasn’t clutching his or her pearls at the time.  RIP to all of those people who died as a result of these tragic shenanigans.  If only A-Rod had been as dour and serious as they were, this atrocity would never have occurred.

By the way, this is a good time to look back to that thing about narratives we discussed yesterday, because a story like this is the kind of thing where narrative silliness is almost certain to occur.

It’s one thing to look at this as a fluffy, silly amusing story which allows us to crack wise. That can be a lot of fun if we let it be and if we don’t take everything so damn seriously. For example: if one of the “admittedly very cute young women near by” call A-Rod back, we can all take great joy in the fact that he has finally stopped striking out.

It’s another thing altogether, however — another idiotic thing — to turn this inconsequential little tabloid story into some metaphor for Rodriguez’s and the Yankees’ postseason struggles or something. If we pretend that This Means Something, either in a baseball sense or a moral sense or a work-ethic sense that has Serious Consequences for the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez’s legacy.

I say we should feel free to have all the fun with this kind of story we want, and to let our references to it be only limited by our senses of humor (note: almost all of the jokes will be bad and beaten into the ground by noon, but it’s not like that has stopped us before) .  However, to the extent you’re reading something from a baseball writer or talking to some other fan and they want to turn this into Chicken and Beer South, be assured that you are dealing with some weapons-grade stupid.

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.