Nationals manager Davey Johnson advised Bryce Harper to stay home rather than make the trip to Port St. Lucie for this afternoon’s Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets. So, the star left fielder nursing a swollen left thumb stayed behind.
More from Johnson, via MLB.com’s Joey Nowak:
“I took him out after two at-bats, though I couldn’t believe that ball jammed him. It was a bullet to right,” Johnson said. “But he’s been getting a lot of reps, a lot of ABs. I was gonna bring him today because I like to watch him play. When I took him out yesterday, it was on my mind not to have him come here. I didn’t re-adjust that after I took him out. The trainers didn’t talk to me about it, and I forgot about it. But when I saw [his thumb] this morning, I said, ‘You’re not going.’ I scratched him.”
Harper has been having a great spring, currently riding a .400 average, three homers, and a team-best 12 RBI in 55 at-bats. Last season, he posted the fourth-best adjusted OPS (119) in baseball history by a player under the age of 20, trailing only Mel Ott (139), Ty Cobb (132), and Sherry Magee (122).
“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.