Ryan Freel’s family is donating his brain to science for study of head trauma

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Ryan Freel committed suicide via gun shot last week at age 36 and now his family is hoping that science can provide some answers about a possible link to his numerous concussions as an athlete.

Freel’s brain tissue will be sent for testing at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where many former NFL players have been studied post-mortem for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Freel’s ex-wife Christie Moore Freel shared some revealing details about her home life during 11 years of marriage, telling Mike Tierney of the New York Times:

I don’t know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars. I cringed that that’s who he was–all-out, full throttle. It was very hard to watch. … I know a lot of people say they weren’t shocked by it, but I really was. I really thought, at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did. I’m very hopeful. We certainly believe there is some sort of connection.

Freel’s step-father told Tierney that the family believes he sustained at least 15 concussions and his ex-wife shared the story of a Venezuelan winter league game in which Freel had to be hospitalized for a concussion after crashing through an outfield wall.

Tierney’s article also includes further details about Freel’s memory loss and mood swings and other post-concussion symptoms, plus a whole lot of very sad stories and comments from his family. Hopefully at least the studying of his brain tissue can provide them with some answers and perhaps help future athletes in Freel’s position.

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.