Baseball 2013: Here come the flamethrowers

More fastball pitchers are throwing at speeds reached by few a decade ago. Why are pitchers throwing faster and what does it mean for baseball?

In the 2003 season, there was only one pitcher who threw at least 25 pitches 100 mph or faster (Billy Wagner). In 2012, there were seven, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

In 2003, there were only three pitchers who threw at least 700 pitches 95 mph or better. In 2012, there were 17. There were 20 pitchers a decade ago who threw at least 25% of their fastballs 96 mph or faster. Last year there were 62, including Carter Capps, the Seattle Mariners’ 22-year-old right-hander, whose average fastball travels 98.3 mph, tying him with the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera for the top spot in the game.

Read The Wall Street Journal story.

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Why are strikeout rates soaring?

There were more strikeouts in 2012 than at any other time in major league history. Why?

Strikeout rates have been trending upward for most of the past century, but what has happened in recent years seems to indicate something more. Big swings often result in home runs, yet homers peaked in the majors in 2000, three years before steroid testing began. It could be that the generation of hitters raised in the glow of chemically fueled sluggers still tries to hit like its heroes.

Read The New York Times story.

Former Atlanta Braves hitting coach Leo Mazzone knows why so many pitchers are getting hurt – and it ain’t because of high pitch counts

LeoMazzone

Widely considered one of the best pitching coaches of all time, Leo Mazzone, who last summer famously deemed the Nats’ Strasburg shutdown plan ‘pathetic,’ has strong opinions on how to take care of pitchers. These quotes are from an interview he did on KFNS 590 AM in St. Louis on March 29, 2013.

“What professional baseball is doing now with pitchers clearly does not work because baseball has set a record for DLs and arm surgeries. We were proud of the health of our (Braves) pitching staffs. We rarely missed starts and we only had a couple of Tommy John surgeries on the Bobby Cox-Leo Mazzone watch.”

“That was because we tried to teach pitchers to throw more often with less exertion. Now they say not to throw or you can’t do this or that. When they go out, they throw as hard as they can because they are not throwing as much.”

“It is basically common sense and that is how you take care of a pitcher’s arm. You better be able to read a pitcher’s mechanics or read his body language. If you have to have a number for an inning or a number for a pitch count to determine whether you leave somebody in, then you shouldn’t be coaching.”

What about long toss?

“Long toss is anything further than sixty feet, six inches. If a pitcher can learn how to make his pitches do something without maxing out his effort, he creates longevity. I had our guys throwing more often but with less exertion. The critics would say I had them throwing too much. No, I’m controlling the effort. If they can learn how to do that, they lower the risk of arm injury.”

“This ain’t old school. If I wanted you to run seven miles in a week, would you feel better if you ran one mile a day to get your seven miles or if you ran your seven miles, took four days off, and did it again. It is common sense.”

Does the type of pitches they throw have an effect?

“It isn’t a particular pitch that hurts your arm. It’s a fallacy that if you throw a split it hurts your arm, or if you throw a slider when you are younger. That is a bunch of BS. What hurts your arm is when you max out on every pitch you throw.”

“A starting pitcher has to learn the amount of effort to put forth on a pitch to get the end result that he wants. That comes in trust in one’s self. How do you acquire that touch? You have to go down to the bullpen and work on it a little. Nothing crazy. I wanted to teach them how to change speeds and get a little touch on their fastball, get a good feel for their pitches. It was my job to regulate their effort.”

Listen to the interview (Segment 4).

Photo by Keith Allison