Andy Pettitte got knocked around by the Astros last night, allowing seven runs while failing to make it out of the fifth inning, and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York writes that the Yankees left-hander wasn’t even sure who was doing the damage:
What made it worse was that Pettitte couldn’t even name the hitters who were jumping all over him in the Yankees’ 9-1 loss to the team with the worst record in the American League.
“I threw a pretty good cutter to the No. 2 hitter, and then after that it just kind of abandoned me,” Pettitte said. The Astros’ No. 2 hitter is named Brandon Barnes, and he enjoyed a career night, with three hits (two doubles) and three RBIs.
“Later, I had a kid 0-2 and I was trying to keep it at [3-0] and tried to go back to the cutter,” he said. It was the same “kid,” Barnes, and the same result, a two-run double that made it 5-0.
Pettitte said afterward that the whole outing “made me sick to my stomach.”
“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.