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Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Ten Questions for the Unofficial Start of Baseball Season

The most important moment of the Super Bowl had nothing to do with football. When the game clock hit zero, baseball season began.

Sure, there’s plenty of time to get mad in March while watching college basketball, but nothing gets us through the final weeks of winter quite like the anticipation of baseball. We’ve got 10 big questions leading up to the 2020 season.

1. Will the Yankees run away with the AL East?
The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole at the winter meetings and immediately became World Series favorites. Giving $324 million to the best pitcher on the planet is the most Yankees way to fix their rotation, and their lineup should be as good, if not better than it was last season.

Still, the AL East isn’t an easy division to win. The Rays have mastered winning on a small budget and should be good again this year. The Blue Jays should be better in their second season of Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. And the Red Sox will still be a threat as long as they don’t trade Mookie Betts (more on that later).

So, what questions do you have that aren’t asked here?


Monday, February 03, 2020

What a crazy year it’s been for new Phillies pitcher Reggie McClain

A year ago at this time, new Phillies pitcher Reggie McClain was driving for Uber in Arizona as he awaited Mariners spring training.

So much has changed since then for him, and in Clearwater with the Phils, he will have an opportunity to make a big-league team out of camp for the first time.

McClain knew going into 2019 that it would be a make-or-break year. If he didn’t progress through the Seattle Mariners’ system and prove his value, the likelihood was that he’d be out of baseball.

“My back was against the wall,” he recalled this weekend as he made the two-day drive from Phoenix to Atlanta.

A reminder of what this time of year means for many players- with a bit of added relevance around midway through.

 

QLE Posted: February 03, 2020 at 12:36 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: dirty rotten cheaters, juiced baseballs, promotions, reggie mcclain, spring training

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Is the Baseball’s Composition Influencing the Game’s Economics?

Earlier this month, Gerrit Cole signed the richest deal in history for a pitcher. For the $324 million he will receive over the next nine years, he can thank his own prodigious talent, the analytically-driven coaching he got during two years with the Astros, superagent Scott Boras … and perhaps one other factor: the baseball itself.

The wild fluctuations in the sports’ most essential equipment are exasperating GMs, broadcasters and fans. They may also be influencing the economics of the game.

This has been a long time coming. Midway through the 2015 season, baseballs used in MLB games suddenly changed. Players noticed lower seams. Pitchers began reporting blisters. Most noticeably, the home run rate spiked. In ’17, the sport set a new longball record of 6,105. (The previous high, set during ’00, in the thick of the steroid era, was 5,693.) The next spring, a study commissioned by Rob Arthur, then of ESPN, found that the composition of the ball had been modified: the cores were less dense, which makes them bouncier and more likely to fly farther. Three months later, MLB bought Rawlings, which manufactures the balls, in the name of standardization. In ’19, hitters shattered the ’17 record, swatting 6,776 homers.

And then the playoffs began. Balls that in April would have been gone were in October settling safely into outfielders’ gloves. Hitters found themselves in trouble on the basepaths as they celebrated what turned out to be long singles. TV cameramen struggled to follow the unfamiliar parabolas. Fans in packed postseason stadiums could not decide whether to boo or cheer. Arthur, now at Baseball Prospectus, calculated the drag factor on the balls and found it dramatically reduced from the regular season, more like the balls of 2016. Teams began moving their outfielders in.

Complete with quotes from a longtime site associate!

 

 

QLE Posted: December 25, 2019 at 01:30 AM | 1 comment(s)
  Beats: economics, juiced baseballs

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Pen: What does MLB do next about its inconsistent baseball? A scientist explains

Several things can be true at once, and self-serving explanations can be valid or at least compelling. For example, when commissioner Rob Manfred says at the winter meetings that the variability of the ball is “part of the charm of the game” which he is uninterested in fully eradicating, this is a rhetorical departure from his earlier public position emphasizing that the balls all meet specifications, that the specifications will be tightened, and that effectively everything is under control. But also, maybe the variability is part of the charm of the game — or at least, it could be.

Asked about the potential of adopting a more stable, synthetic baseball, Manfred made his stance abundantly clear. “I would not, am not now, and would not be in favor of moving away from the baseball that has traditionally been used to play what I regard to be the greatest game in the world,” he said this week in San Diego.

So then the imperfect ball is here to stay.

And Major League Baseball, perhaps realizing that the media was not going to drop it or else recognizing that it cannot control a man-made production down to one-thousandth of an inch, has pivoted to extolling the virtues of variability — which is not an entirely disingenuous venture for a sport played in open-air weather conditions within inconsistent field dimensions.

Is it just me, or do all these claims about the baseballs only serve to raise more questions?

 

QLE Posted: December 14, 2019 at 12:27 AM | 11 comment(s)
  Beats: juiced baseballs

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Study points to seam height in MLB’s homer surge, but leaves much unexplained

SAN DIEGO — For the second time in two years, a group of scientists hired by Major League Baseball to conduct an independent study on the composition of the baseballs to determine what caused the recent home run spikes has concluded not much at all. To their credit, they have a little more information than last time. (Maybe it was the seams all along.) But then again, who doesn’t?

According to the new report released by MLB on Wednesday morning at the winter meetings, 60% of the jump to 2019’s record-setting 6,776 homers is due to an increase in carry — in other words, the drag on the balls decreased. The other 40% it attributes to launch conditions — which, in the absence of other evidence, is believed to be a result of batter behavior.

Of the 60% that can be attributed to the ball, 35% of that was concluded to be the result of changes in the seam height, although it measured 2019’s average seam height as being smaller than that of 2018 “by less than 0.001 inches.” Despite not being able to explain the other 65% change in the aerodynamics of the ball, the researchers ruled out a meaningful change to a number of other physical properties — roundness, surface roughness, lace thickness.

Wednesday’s report was authored by Drs. Alan Nathan, Jim Albert, Peko Hosoi and Lloyd Smith, and again found no evidence that the balls were intentionally altered or “juiced.” The committee was first formed in August 2017, a season that had been a historic high-water mark in baseball for home runs. It capped off a steady trend of balls flying further that started following the All-Star break in 2015, spurring the league to commission the independent study to figure out what exactly happened. The following May, 10 scientists announced they had no idea.

Some more thoughts on why the home run surge has come to be.

 

QLE Posted: December 12, 2019 at 12:43 AM | 3 comment(s)
  Beats: juiced baseballs

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

MLB isn’t confident it can produce a consistent ball, leaving GMs to adapt

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last week at the annual general managers meetings, the state of the baseball — the subtle shift in the aerodynamics that resulted in a not-so-subtle spike in home runs — was a top-level topic of conversation both privately between team executives and in meetings with league representatives.

“Obviously the ball last year, it played differently than it had in prior years,” Phillies GM Matt Klentak said. Data analysis as well as studies of the physical baseball showed that drag on the ball was lower in the regular season, resulting in unprecedented power numbers across the sport and a systematic shattering of home run records — all before the postseason ball doubled back and was shown to be less lively.

A’s GM David Forst agreed that “the science and the evidence is indisputable” that the 2019 ball was different enough to have a material impact on the game — but with a champion already crowned for the season that ended last month, front office focuses have (ostensibly) shifted to building the best team possible for 2020: “Obviously our biggest concern is what is the baseball going to be like going forward and how that affects how we evaluate different players.”

“I can only speak for our organization, but what we want is consistency,” Forst said, “and we’ll build a team around that.”

Feels oddly telling, doesn’t it?

 

QLE Posted: November 20, 2019 at 02:08 PM | 21 comment(s)
  Beats: baseballs, juiced baseballs

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rawlings may have been misleading consumers about postseason memorabilia baseballs

A handful of baseball writers have been on the altered-baseball beat for the last few years. Among them is Dr. Meredith Wills, who has studied the baseball — manufactured by Rawlings — several times for The Athletic. Wills took apart batches of baseballs, measuring things such as the width of the seams. She found that, indeed, newer batches of baseballs used seams that were about nine percent thicker. This likely contributed to the rise in blisters on pitchers’ fingers during the same time period.

Major League Baseball has an ownership stake in Rawlings, partnering with Seidler Equity Partners in 2018 to purchase the company for just under $400 million. MLB claimed it would have “even more input and direction on the production of the official ball.” Despite ever-increasing evidence that the baseball was altered, the league maintained for a while that nothing was different. When even its own commissioned study turned up evidence that the ball was materially different, it could no longer remain in denial. Still, commissioner Rob Manfred as recently as this past February suggested that other factors contributed to the rise in home runs. 6,776 home runs were hit in 2019, shattering the previous record of 6,105 set in 2017 which shattered the previous record of 5,693 set in 2000.

Wills has remained on the beat, focusing on 2019 postseason baseballs. She hasn’t received any help from the league or from Rawlings in uncovering answers. Wills mentioned that her previous sources had become hesitant to provide baseballs in fear of retribution from their employers. Others had their access to baseballs cut off. Nevertheless, Wills decided to purchase three boxes of 12 postseason baseballs each (36 total) from the Rawlings website for $299.99 apiece. They were described as “the official 2019 Postseason baseball … being used in all of the 2019 Major League Baseball Playoff Games.” Wills confirmed with Rawlings that they were both authenticated and identical to the balls being used on the field during the postseason.

And this story gets even more peculiar.

 

QLE Posted: November 14, 2019 at 12:21 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: juiced baseballs, memorabilia

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Cards’ front office says playoff baseballs have lost juice

The St. Louis Cardinals’ front office says baseballs have suddenly lost their juice this postseason, supporting a claim from a prominent data scientist that the balls have changed following a historic, homer-friendly regular season.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Saturday that St. Louis’ analytics department has found the ball is flying 4 ½ fewer feet on average in the postseason. Players in both leagues have been stunned when hard-hit balls have fallen on the warning track this month, raising more questions about the makeup of the baseballs after hitters clubbed a record 6,776 home runs in the regular season — a rise attributed to unusually far-flying balls.

“I mean there’s probably all kind of different theories behind that that I won’t really get into,” Shildt said before a 3-1 loss to Washington in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “Just the fact of the matter, it could be any number of things.”

The numbers don’t leave much doubt, says data journalist Rob Arthur. He was among the first to suggest tweaks to the ball may have caused home runs to spike as early as 2015, and he thinks something is off with this year’s October model, too.

So, where were these balls during the regular season, and what do we do to have them used during it?

 

QLE Posted: October 13, 2019 at 12:25 AM | 19 comment(s)
  Beats: cardinals, juiced baseballs, playoffs

 

 

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