I saw the headline “Vernon Wells trying to hit his way into the Angels’ outfield,” and my first thought was that this was some sort of Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan situation. WATCH OUT, MIKE TROUT!
But really: Wells is totally raking this spring: .389/.455/.889 with three homers. granted (a) he’s playing later in games and is thus facing crappier pitching; and (b) spring training stats aren’t worth a diddly-durn, but after the two years he’s lodged in Anaheim any success on Wells part is worthy of note.
Still, as Anthony Witrado reports in the linked story, Wells just doesn’t have a position. Mike Scioscia is doing the right thing in giving Peter Bourjos every opportunity to play center, making Mark Trumbo his DH, is keeping Trout on a corner, and is relegating Wells to spot-DH duties and a backup outfield role to start the season.
Granted, having Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols at first and right will likely lead to some DL time and that will give Wells and opportunity here and there. But really, this is how it should be. Sizzling spring or not, if Wells is getting, like, 400 plate appearances in 2013, something has gone dreadfully wrong in Anaheim.
“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.