Pirates get Zach Stewart from Red Sox, Vin Mazzaro and Clint Robinson from Royals

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Pittsburgh made a pair of minor trades, acquiring right-hander Zach Stewart from the Red Sox for a player to be named later and getting right-hander Vin Mazzaro and first baseman Clint Robinson from the Royals for minor leaguer pitchers Luis Santos and Luis Rico.

Boston got Stewart from Chicago in the Kevin Youkilis trade, but designated him for assignment last week. He has a 6.82 ERA in 103 career innings, but Stewart has a decent track record in the minors and could emerge as a useful back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.

Mazzaro is a similar story in that the Royals got him from the A’s for David DeJesus and then designated him for assignment following a 6.72 ERA in 72 innings. He doesn’t have much upside, but gives the Pirates some more pitching depth.

As a 27-year-old first baseman Robinson was never going to get a chance in Kansas City behind Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, but he’s consistently crushed minor-league pitching  and offers 20-homer power with good strike zone control. Robinson hit .309 with a .396 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage in two seasons at Triple-A, so it’s nice to see the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder go somewhere he might actually get an opportunity.

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.