A.J. Ellis doesn’t think Yadier Molina should have had to apply a tag on close play at home

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One of the memorable plays from NLCS Game 1 came in the top of the tenth inning. With one out, A.J. Ellis hit a line drive to right-center — a single if center fielder Jon Jay played it correctly. Jay, however, mistakenly dove after the ball and missed it completely. Ellis motored to third base as the ball made its way back to the infield. Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked, bringing up Michael Young with runners on the corners and one out.

Young hit a lazy fly ball to right fielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran camped under it, then fired the ball home. Catcher Yadier Molina corralled the ball just before Ellis crashed into him. Home plate umpire Gerry Davis called Ellis out, ending the inning, keeping the Cardinals’ hopes alive. Replays shown on the TBS broadcast called into question the veracity of the call.

After the game, Ellis said that Davis made the correct call, even if Molina didn’t actually apply the tag. Via Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times:

“In the history of baseball, no one has ever been called safe on that play because they didn’t tag them,” A.J. Ellis said Saturday.

Ellis said he understood such a play would be subject to a replay challenge next year.

“That would be a shame for a great defensive play like that, the great throw by Carlos, and great play by Yadier at the plate to be overturned because of a technicality that he didn’t graze him with the glove,” Ellis said.

As a fellow catcher, it’s not surprising to see Ellis take Molina’s side. It is surprising to expect a defender to be given credit for an action without actually having to make it. Middle infielders are still expected to touch the second base bag and apply tags even when they have runners stampeding towards them from first base. What reason is there to treat catchers separately?

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.