Dustin McGowan made for a interesting comeback story after earning a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation out of spring training, but the club has decided to move him back to the bullpen after eight starts.
It’s probably for the best. McGowan, who has dealt with all sorts of injuries in recent years, allowed four runs in four innings against the Indians last night and owns a 5.08 ERA and 25/17 K/BB ratio over 39 innings this season. While the 32-year-old right-hander has already thrown his most innings in the majors since 2008, he averaged fewer than five innings per start. He told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca that he knew a change was likely necessary after he had increased difficulty recovering between starts.
“After the Pittsburgh start (May 4), I just noticed it was getting more and more sore after every start,”he said. “When I started noticing stuff out of the normal, I knew it was time to probably say something to them about it. … I just didn’t want it to lead to something worse.”
McGowan will now return to the bullpen, where he posted a 2.45 ERA in 25 appearances last season. The Blue Jays have yet to decide who to replace him in the rotation, but top prospect Marcus Stroman and Todd Redmond are the most likely options.
“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.