Over at Yahoo’s Big League Stew, Dave Brown peppered Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista with questions from a wide avenue of subjects. One of those subjects pertained to beards — his, and those of his major league peers. Bautista, of course, has a magnificent beard and he explained how he keeps it maintained so consistently.
Brown then asked Bautista what he thinks of some of the scragglier beards around the league, such as those that belong to Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle of the Athletics. Bautista isn’t having it:
DB: Whose beard in this room impresses you? Should you say Derek Norris?
Jose: No! Or [Sean] Doolittle, either. It doesn’t impress me because they don’t do anything to it. They just let it go. No maintenance, there’s no effort into it.
DB: You don’t appreciate the joie de vivre, the free spirit, the letting go?
Jose: I do, but it doesn’t impress me enough to admire the beard.
Bautista really should give credit to both for having the willpower for letting the beard grow out the way they have, though. That type of beard is itchy — particularly in the in-between phase, when it’s not a well-manicured beard but it’s not a caveman beard yet — and it requires a lot of maintenance, lest one invite bugs and birds to build nests inside. It’s a free country and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but to paraphrase the great Voltaire, “I may not like your beard, but I’ll defend to the death your right to grow it.”
“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.