The Giants sit atop the NL West, in first place at 22-13, one game ahead of the Colorado Rockies. Part of that success can be attributed to the success of second baseman Brandon Hicks at the plate. But… huh? Hicks is only hitting .200. Thanks to six home runs and 13 walks in 101 plate appearances, Hicks has gotten on base at a .313 clip and is slugging .459 for a respectable .772 OPS.
Manager Bruce Bochy sees beyond the batting average. Via CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly:
“You’ve heard me say it. I’m not all that big on average,” Bochy said. “I agree with a lot of baseball people. That’s way overrated. It’s on-base and slugging. Sometimes you give up a little bit to do some damage. That’s his style.”
Bruce Bochy, saberist.
“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.