Less than a month ago Braves catcher Brian McCann said he was optimistic about being ready to return from shoulder surgery by Opening Day, but apparently that optimism has vanished.
“I’m not close,” McCann told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Just started hitting off a tee. I started throwing last week, from 45 feet. Sixty feet this week. I’ve thrown a total of six times. Next week hopefully at 90 feet, and just go from there. I’ve got to build my arm strength back up.”
So what’s the new timetable? Well, he hasn’t officially been ruled out for Opening Day, but O’Brien writes that “doctors won’t clear him for full-on playing in games until April 15.” Which seems to suggest the new “optimistic” return date is probably late April and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if McCann doesn’t play at all during the season’s first month.
“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.