Albert Pujols becomes 26th member of 500 home run club

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There are now 26 members of the 500 homer club.

Albert Pujols hit a three-run shot to left field off Nationals starter Taylor Jordan in the top of the first inning and then crushed a two-run bomb to deep left-center off Jordan in the top of the fifth for the 499th and 500th home runs of his 14-year major league career on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.

The 34-year-old slugger is the third-youngest player to reach the 500 home run milestone, behind Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx, who both hit 500 at age 32. Pujols is the first player to tally career home runs 499 and 500 in the same game.

Albert was greeted at home plate by his Angels teammates after No. 500 and got a curtain call from the Nationals Park crowd. He also hit his 400th homer in Washington. MLB.com has the highlight:

Pujols hit his first 455 home runs with the Cardinals before signing a $250 million deal with Anaheim.

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.