Matt Holliday out third straight game with stiff back

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Matt Holliday is out of the Cardinals’ starting lineup for a third consecutive game on Tuesday night versus the Nationals. Shane Robinson will start in left field in his place and bat second against Washington left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

The Cardinals have a two-game buffer over the Pirates and Reds in the National League Central standings, so maybe this is a precautionary thing. But a three-game absence is typically a red flag.

St. Louis is still missing Allen Craig, who suffered a sprained foot earlier this month and might not be ready for action until sometime in mid-October. The Cardinals have had the most productive offense in the National League this year with 760 runs scored and will continue to try to weather the storm.

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.