The fireworks started early at the Brewers-Braves game in Atlanta on Wednesday, with a Carlos Gomez homer off Paul Maholm in the top of the first leading to a benches-clearing incident.
Gomez and Maholm had a history, with Gomez batting .424 with two HBPs in 21 career plate appearances against the lefty. After his long homer tonight, he paused and watched, then started jawing with Maholm as he finally decided to start his trot. The conversation continued with Freddie Freeman as he rounded first, and as he turned third, he found himself a roadblock in the form of Brian McCann about 15 feet in front of home plate.
That went as well as one might expect. Gomez and McCann traded barbs and were quickly joined by a couple of Brewers and Reed Johnson off the Braves’ bench. Gomez got very angry, but he seemed more interested in finding teammates to hold him back than actually taking a swing at anyone. In the end, no blows were exchanged. Freeman was the Brave ejected, to his great surprise. The Gomez ejection went unannounced, but he didn’t take his position in the bottom of the first.
Oddly enough, Gomez never did come around to touch home plate. Since McCann obstructed him, it seems he didn’t have to.
For McCann and the Braves, it’s the second incident in a couple of weeks in which they didn’t much like someone’s actions after homering off them. The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez previously got into it with McCann and Chris Johnson.
Whether McCann started this one or not, he should have been the Brave ejected for getting in Gomez’s way. It was hard to see what Freeman did beyond some verbal jousting.
“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.