Greetings from day two of the Winter Meetings

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For the second day in a row I am the first person in the media room. Given that I was not exactly the first person to go to sleep last night, I am far less proud of myself for being an early riser today than I was yesterday. Viva la Winter Meetings.

This is the first of the four Winter Meetings I’ve attended where there was not some fairly major-to major signing after 9pm local time. This was OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for me to have to interrupt my evening circulating plans to blog about something, but it was less OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for anyone else to clear out either. There are many fine establishments to quench one’s thirst here at the Opryland Resort, but last night they were all crowded.

But it did make for good people-watching. The sports bar here — Fuse — performed a noble service in attracting all of the Ed Hardy shirt-wearing 20 and 30-something men so they did not come into close contact with the rest of us. Next door, Def Leprechaun played once again at the Irish pub, attracting people who seemed around 65% less-amused at a band with a clever name last night than they were the night before. They’re OK and all, but less is more with those guys.

But those were just places where my party and I passed through while looking for the real action of the Winter Meetings, which took place in the large bar off the main lobby, called The Falls. This is where major and minor league lifers found their friends, held impromptu reunions and reminisced about their younger days. “Hey, you sonofabitch! How the hell ARE ya! Hawhawhaw!” [back slap back slap back slap].  It was the real life version of that “Seinfeld” episode when George met the Houston Astros executives. Except the lone Houston Astros executive I saw last night was Kevin Goldstein, and he was calm and dapper.

I tried my best to keep my ear to the ground, but really, there was not a ton of gossip to be had.  The best I could do was to take joy in little moments.  Like seeing Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy not looking stressed and cold, which is how we last saw them. Like seeing managers, agents, executives and reporters stack their empties on a brick wall that should not have been able to hold that many empties.  Like seeing some jerk at the bar telling Brad Ausmus to “get a job,” and then, when Ausmus looked perplexed, hearing the jerk say what he meant was that he thought he was a great managerial candidate and that “get a job” meant “I’d love to see you managing a team.”  You’ll hear rumors today that that jerk was me, but don’t you believe it. Ahem.

Anyway, back at it today.  Mike Napoli was fun yesterday, but we’re still waiting for a big, big move a la Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke.  Given that we put up 68 posts at HBT yesterday, you know that if something like that happens — or if 66 or so smaller moves happen — we’ll have it for you, so tune us in and rip off the dial.

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.