Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal chases a wild pitch.

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Bernstein: MLB Discovering New Kind Of Action

A side effect of increased velocity and spin rate is more wild pitches and passed balls.

Dan Bernstein
October 25, 2018 - 3:41 pm
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(670 The Score) If you think you've been seeing more balls bouncing away from catchers and baserunners then on the move, your eyes aren't deceiving you. Both this postseason and last and with increasing frequency in the regular season every year since 2015, the total combined number of wild pitches and passed balls is mattering more than ever.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post calls them by the catch-all term PECAR, an acronym for Pitches Eluding Catcher Advancing Runner. He notes their significance in playoff games and spoke with players and managers about the reasons for the uptick, putting together a list of factors that make perfect intuitive sense.

All roads lead back to velocity now, with pitchers not only throwing fastballs harder than ever but understanding spin rate in a way that generates wipeout breaking balls far more likely to bounce uncatchably. Then there's the prioritization of framing that minimizes reaching away from the body to secure a pitch in favor of sneaking the glove out of the zone just long enough to snap up the ball and pull it back in quickly enough to present it as a strike.

And there are strategic reasons too. Fear of stolen signals has led to more complicated ones that are used and changed more often, a fact exacerbated by the average number of pitchers deployed rising as well. This may be resulting in more communication breakdowns that lead to cross-ups when the catcher doesn't get what he thinks he called, often after setting up as late as possible before the pitch so as to not give anything away to the batter. Not to mention how specific scouting reports have become, engineered to deliver a specific pitch to a specific spot at a specific time against a given hitter. It has all made the margin for error tinier than ever, resulting in the slew of critical mistakes that we've been seeing.

But one aspect Sherman doesn't cover in his fascinating piece is the next question -- are more PECARs a good development, bad development or neither? How entertaining or exciting are they?

We know that the rapid evolution of the game at its highest level has made it more stagnant. As many analysts have lamented, there's not as much actually going on in games any more outside of home runs, walks and strikeouts. Stolen bases aren't worth the risk, ground balls are anathema to winning and more informed defense is better positioned to take away singles. In fact, the overall batting average of MLB in 2018 dropped to .248, down seven points from the previous season and the lowest since 1972. Strikeouts outnumbered hits for the first time ever, 41,207-41,019. For context, hits led by 13,418 as recently as 2006.

So in this environment, it appears that an unintended consequence of data-driven tactics and more and harder-throwing pitchers has been the creation of a new catalyst for action on the basepaths. From a fan's perspective, it's probably a good thing when something more is actually happening out there beyond the current spate of strikeouts that's interrupted by the occasional homer.

So we can welcome the PECAR, the postmodern base hit.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​​​​​​​​

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