I feel like most of fandom was on Jose Fernandez’s side the other night after he admired his home run and ruffled the Braves’ feathers. No one particularly approved of the spitting-at-Chris-Johnson thing, but overall the sense I’ve gotten from people is that, hey, he’s young, he hit his first-ever homer and he can be forgiven for being a bit exuberant about it. More broadly, I think most fans roll their eyes at unwritten rules things and there’s nothing wrong with a kid having a bit of fun out there. He plays for the Marlins for cryin’ out loud, let him enjoy himself for five minutes, OK?
The Marlins, however, are on the Braves’ side with this one:
Even after emotions had settled Thursday, [Marlins manager Mike] Redmond sided with Atlanta.
“Jose is an emotional guy,” he said. “That’s part of his game that is going to improve. We don’t want to take the ‘having fun’ aspect away from him. That’s what makes him him. But at the same time, I think maybe he can center that a little bit. … That might be a part of his game he needs to look at, and maybe try to do something different.”
Bah. If I’m Redmond my only comment would be “well, if they want to put him in his place maybe they should figure out how to get a hit off of him once in a while.” But apparently we’re in a no fun aloud zone.
“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.