Twins’ Andrew Albers nearly pitches shutout in ML debut

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Minnesota left-hander Andrew Albers defeated the surging Royals on Tuesday, throwing 8 1/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut. He allowed just four hits.

Albers’ superb outing came just one day after the Royals walloped the Twins 13-0.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire chose to pull the 27-year-old Albers after a single and a one-out walk in the ninth. It was his first walk of the night, and after 109 pitches, he likely was tiring.

Still, it’s too bad he didn’t get one shot to get a game-ending double play. No active major leaguer has thrown a shutout in his major league debut. The last to do it was Detroit’s Andy Van Hekken on Sept. 3, 2002. It’s happened just seven times since 1980.

Albers, who was signed out of indy ball a couple of years ago, was a nice story even before the shutout. The native of Canada was drafted in the 10th round by the Padres in 2008, underwent Tommy John surgery and was released in 2010. That’s the short version. Seth Stohs has the longer one over at Twinsdaily.com.

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.