We learned last month that veteran right-hander Brett Tomko was pitching in the Dominican Republic in hopes of making a comeback in MLB. Well, he’ll get a chance to secure a job later this week:
Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors reported earlier this month that six teams were in the mix for Tomko, who turns 41 in April. The reports out of the Dominican Republic have been promising, as he’s lost a bunch of weight and was reportedly throwing his fastball in the 90-93 mph range. He could be appealing on a minor league deal, especially since he has expressed a willingness to pitch at Triple-A and mentor young pitchers, even in a bullpen role.
Tomko, who has a 4.65 ERA over a 14-year career, hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2011 as a member of the Rangers. He spent 2012 in the minors between the Reds and Diamondbacks and pitched with the independent York Revolution last season.
“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.