A number of owners are “convinced” that the Cubs will sign Masahiro Tanaka

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FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Cubs are “pushing hard” to sign Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers have obviously received much of the attention so far, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark provides more evidence why we should start taking the Cubs seriously here:

It’s unclear what a “monster deal” means exactly, but one would have to assume that it would be well above $100 million. It could be worth it for a team like the Cubs, who are trying to find their way back to relevancy. While they are loaded with top position prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Alberto Almora, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara, they are a bit short on the pitching side. Signing Tanaka, while expensive, would be huge for the rebuilding effort.

Tanaka has until January 24 (next Friday) at 5:00 p.m. ET to sign with a team.

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.