The problem is that it often takes a lot of pitches to get a strikeout. On average, in 2014, strikeouts required 4.5 pitches per plate appearance while outs on balls put in play took only 3 pitches. Every strikeout a pitcher gets drives them closer to their pitch-count limit even as it increases their Game Score. Any pitcher working on a record-challenging game must therefore contend with his manager, whose goal is to preserve the pitcher’s arm for another day. Kluber’s potentially historic performance was disrupted by just such reasoning, and it prevented him from getting a chance, however small, to break Kerry Wood’s record.
The recent drop in pitch counts is also partly attributable to sabermetric research. With the revelation that pitchers gradually decline every time they go through the order, there has been a shift toward pulling starters before their performance begins to tumble. Starting pitcher performance falls even when they have been cruising through the lineup, mowing down hitters. In potentially record-breaking games, a manager must often choose between a starter whose expected performance is league average (or worse) in their third time through the order versus a fresh reliever whose strikeout potential exceeds even the best starter. It’s no surprise that most managers opt to lock down the win.
Part of the reason Roe's slider seems so ridiculous is because of how Caleb Joseph reacts to the pitch. His glove appears to be squarely in the middle of the zone, but has to jerk his left arm over to the first base side to catch the pitch. The movement of the glove and subsequent pull of his entire upper body make the viewer think that even Joseph didn't expect the pitch to move quite that much. In reality, Roe likely just missed his spot—which is understandable when a pitch moves more than two feet—and Joseph was surprised at the location regardless of the movement.
Knowing that Joseph continues to be one of the best framing catchers in baseball should only serve to amplify the impact of having our perception anchored by the target he initially made for Roe. Ultimately, when the catcher sits off the plate where the pitch ends up, our perception is going to be that the offering was less impressive because the pitch did what the catcher expected it to. That doesn't mean it didn't have absurd movement; it just seems a lot less impressive than it perhaps ought to.
The injury has the potential to seriously hurt a pitcher's velocity, although this hasn't been the case in all situations. While pitchers like Chris Carpenter and Shaun Marcum saw a noticeable drop in their velocity, Matt Harrison saw his velocity increase as he became further removed from the surgery.
The biggest area these pitchers seemed to struggle was with their command, both in and out of the strike zone. This manifested itself in slightly higher walk rates, a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone, and hard contact on pitchers that were in the strike zone, including abnormally high home run rates.
But do you still need to sacrifice offense for good defense up the middle? Aren’t we over the days of the scrappy second baseman and lanky shortstop? Shouldn’t this be one of the modernizations made possible by 21st-century athletes? Look at Troy Tulowitzki. Look at Chase Utley. Look at what Barry Larkin and Cal Ripkenand Roberto Alomar did on the field and at the plate. When Tory Hernandez looks at those players, he sees once-in-a-generation talent. If there were more Tulowitzkis out there playing professional baseball — or thinking of playing professional baseball — there’d be plenty of teams willing to play those guys at shortstop, instead of pushing them to first base or the outfield.
Brad Kullman agrees. Kullman worked in scouting and player development for the Cincinnati Reds from 1996 to 2006, including a stint as assistant general manager from 2002 to 2006. More recently, he’s worked as a pro scout for the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs. “Scouts are always looking for the five-tool player,” Kullman told me. “That’s been consistent over time.” But not all guys have five strong tools and when they don’t, you have to make choices. “There are two things you can’t teach to a ballplayer — running speed and arm strength,” Kullman added. Even with the influx of talent from around the world, there are only so many guys who can play shortstop at the major-league level. If they can post a 125 wRC+, that’s great, but it isn’t a job requirement.
If the bottom of the strike zone reverted to its 2009 height, this analysis estimates about 1,000 additional runs would be scored over the course of the season. If we augment the 2014 run total by this difference, it brings the runs scored per team per game up from 4.07 to 4.27. Once again, this closely matches the run environment experienced in the league in 2012.
The bulk of talent at the major league level now lies — to a greater degree than in quite a while — with its young players: Baseball's Kids Are All Right, by Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight
Young players have traditionally relied upon their defense to build their value, and this year is no exception. The 24 and under group typically performs anywhere from 100 to 500 runs below average on offense but makes up for it to some extent with 100 to 200 runs from their defense. Less than halfway through this season’s games, young position players have been worth 93 runs defensively. Prorated to a full season, this would be the best defensive performance for that age group since 2001, when the overall value of the youngsters was near its low point.
Except today’s kids can do something those 2001 ones couldn’t: rake. With an average mark of 94.6, young hitters are putting up the best Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) since that marvelous 2007 class (which was at 99.2). The average wRC+ is set at 100, so the young players are adding decent hitting to their superlative defense. Much of the hitting stems from a power surge: The young hitters are racking up a slugging percentage of .400, slightly better than the league average of .397.
We have here a sample of 90 team seasons, and an opportunity to look at which ended up closer to their preseason projection, and which ended up closer to their midseason one. Of the 90, I see 15 teams whose Opening Day expected win total better reflected their finish than their July 4 projection. By my count, 29 more teams either didn’t see a significant change in expected record over the first three months of their seasons, or ended up with a record more or less halfway between the preseason and midseason expectations. That leaves 46 teams—the slimmest possible majority in this sample—for whom the first half was valuable information, the kind one would be foolish to disregard.
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