MLBPA head Michael Weiner dies at age 51 following battle with brain cancer

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Very sad news to pass along this evening, as MLBPA head Michael Weiner passed away today following a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He was 51 years old.

Per the Associated Press, Weiner died at his home in Mansfield Township, New Jersey. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

This isn’t unexpected news, as we learned last month that Weiner had anywhere from two to six months to live, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Diamondbacks reliever and union rep Brad Ziegler was the first to pass along word of Weiner’s death this evening:

Weiner took over as head of the player’s union four years ago and helped shape an era of labor peace. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in August of 2012, but continued to work to make a difference in the game. And from all accounts, he did it with class and dignity. Former major leaguer Tony Clark will now take over as acting executive director for the player’s union.

This is a sad day for baseball. We send our condolences to Weiner’s family, friends, and colleagues. We’ll add more reaction from around the game throughout the evening.

Please read these wonderful tributes from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Here is a statement from MLB commissioner Bud Selig:

“All of Major League Baseball mourns the loss of Michael Weiner, a gentleman, a family man, and an extraordinarily talented professional who earned the trust of his membership and his peers throughout the national pastime.  Our strong professional relationship was built on a foundation of respect and a shared commitment to finding fair solutions for our industry.  I appreciated Michael’s tireless, thoughtful leadership of the Players and his pivotal role in the prosperous state of Baseball today.

“Michael was a courageous human being, and the final year of his remarkable life inspired so many people in our profession.  On behalf of Major League Baseball and our 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Michael’s wife Diane, their three daughters, his colleagues at the MLBPA and his many friends and admirers throughout the game he served with excellence.”

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.