Clint Barmes was the Pirates’ primary shortstop this season, but after going 0-for-2 with an error against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLDS manager Clint Hurdle has decided to bench him for Game 2.
Jordy Mercer will start at shortstop, which is definitely an offense-for-defense swap. Mercer hit .285 with eight homers and a .772 OPS in 365 plate appearances this season while seeing action at shortstop and second base. Barmes, meanwhile, hit just .211 with a .558 OPS and was more or less just as bad for the Pirates last year too.
Meanwhile, just two days ago Hurdle talked about the importance of sticking with Barmes despite his lack of offensive production, telling Tom Singer of MLB.com:
For us older men, we always talked about the strength of the ball club being up the middle with your catcher, your second baseman, your shortstop and your center fielder. He’s given us that opportunity to be stronger. … Barmes has been an impact defender for us. Those that have watched our club throughout the season, there’s games when he makes plays that nobody else we have can make.
And one game later, Hurdle has benched Barmes.
“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.