MLBits: X-Rays Show the Balls Are Juiced, Samardzija's Football Decision, Darvish and Harper Slow, More

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MLBits: X-Rays Show the Balls Are Juiced, Samardzija’s Football Decision, Darvish and Harper Slow, More

Chicago Cubs

Does anybody else watch the Showtime TV Show “Ash vs. Evil Dead”? It’s a sequel, of sorts, to the original 1981 movie (one of my all-time favorites): “Evil Dead.” And even though it’s nearly 40 years later, they got Bruce Campbell to reprise his role of “Ash.”

Anyway, I bring it up, because season 3 just recently premiered … at the end of February. It was supposed to come back in October (you know, Halloween time), but got pushed for whatever reason, and now it just feels weird watching this genre at this time of the year.

Oh well, I guess I’m just glad it’s back.

  • At FiveThirtyEight, Rob Arthur and Tim Dix have stayed on the “juiced ball” story, and now they’ve done even more analysis. Specifically, they X-rayed some baseballs from various years to see what they would find. And, as it turns out, the cores are less dense than the balls used before the 2015 All-Star game (when this started), and also weigh about half-gram less. This, of course, is not enough to explain the surging home run totals on its own, but when combined with some of the previous findings (balls are bouncier and less air resistant because the seams are lower), a clearer picture is starting to emerge. Home run rates have increased by about 46% in recent years, and the math behind what the FiveThirtyEight crew found in the balls? The change in the balls would account for about a 25% increase in home runs. In other words, you combine the change in balls with the fly ball revolution and you get a serious home run spike.
  • As Craig Calcaterra points out at NBC Sports, the league continues to deny that the ball is “juiced” in any official (or even unofficial!) way, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. So far there’ve been numerous studies showing how the ball, itself, is different, and how the results on the field have been extreme – 2017 set the league home run record, which was originally set in 2000 at the height of the steroid era, just after 2016 came pretty close to doing the same. I used to think the league had purposely changed the ball just enough to stay under the acceptable threshold, so that they could maintain plausible deniability, but now I’m wondering if there were actually just a number of very subtle changes (they either were or were not aware of), which, together, created the effect we’re seeing today. At this point, given everything we’ve learned, I’m consistently surprised that the Commissioner continues to say nothing’s different. Even if the league originally genuinely believed that to be the case, it’s impossible to credibly deny at this point. The balls are different than they were before the 2015 All-Star break. They just are.
  • In the Lukewarm Stove earlier today, we examined Craig Counsell’s comments that the Brewers’ top three starters, at the moment, include Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin, while Brent Suter, Junior Guerra, Brandon Woodruff, and Yovani Gallardo continue to battle it out for the vacant fourth and fifth spots. And at the Journal Sentinel, Kaelen Jones says that Woodruff is making a strong case to crack the rotation out of camp. Indeed, his manager lauded the improved confidence in his fastball, while staff leader (when healthy) Jimmy Nelson had nothing but good things to say: “He’s just got plus-stuff all across the board. He’s just gonna get better really. He showed us what he had with his stuff last year, and he’s gonna really refine his command. He’s gonna be a force for sure.”
  • Woodruff, 25, made his Major League debut last season, finishing with middling numbers, but at the end of a long season, overall. Indeed, his first four starts with the club were actually quite excellent: 23.2 IP, 20Ks, 9BBs, 1.52 ERA (3.41 FIP). He got blown up a bit at the end of the year, but, again, he had already far exceed his season-high inning count by that point. With a full offseason of rest and a more long-term plan, he could be very good (and very cheap/young) in that blossoming rotation.
  • This July will mark the 10-year anniversary of Jeff Samardzija’s Major League debut with the Cubs, and Jon Morosi ( discusses Samardzija’s decision to pick baseball over football (he was a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame, who could’ve played in the NFL). But, given my new-found knowledge of football thanks to Luis at The Ten-Yard Line, I can almost guarantee you that Samardzija has made WAY more money in baseball than he ever would’ve have in the NFL. Remember, he got a $10 million signing bonus from the Cubs (back before the draft had hard caps), and signed a $90 million deal with the Giants three years ago. Add that to the money he made in between and there’s no doubt he made the right decision. Of course, money isn’t everything, but baseball is also awesome, so.
(Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
  • Okay, now this is just fun. Sam Sharpe shares pace-of-play metrics for individual players, including the number of expected hours added per season above average (xHSAA):

  • The only current Cub I see on the list is Yu Darvish, who is apparently among the slower workers in baseball. And the only future Cub I see on the list is Bryce Harper, who is one of the same. That is to say, I am suddenly opposed to any and all pace-of-play initiatives.
  • Matt Harvey is excited about this season and thinks this year will be different. “It’s a completely new year,” Harvey said. “I’m not talking about last year. I’m not comparing anything to last year, or years before. My mechanics were good today, and I’m excited about the outing.” He did reportedly hit 96 MPH on the radar gun during the final batter of the afternoon yesterday, and I’m rooting hard for him to make it back (I like good players being healthy enough to play, sue me), but when it comes to Mets pitchers … I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • The Rays are usually a very advanced/forward-thinking team, which leads me to believe they’re onto something. Apparently, over the years, they’ve been focusing their pitching efforts on players with great fastballs and now, this offseason, they’ve ditched their players with the weakest ability against fastballs. Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, and Steven Souza Jr. each ranked among the top 10 in whiffs on four-seam fastballs last year and now all three are gone. There are probably other things to take into consideration ($$$), but it’s interesting nonetheless. Remember this, I bet it comes up again.
  • Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier suffered a mild concussion after bumping into the outfield wall making a catch on Saturday, but he’s still experiencing symptoms nearly a week later. That said, he’s making improvements and is feeling fewer symptoms. And apparently, some of his progress is credited to Seattle Seahawks QB and Yankees Spring Training invitee Russell Willson, who shared some secrets from his fellow NFL players who, sadly, deal with concussions all too often.
  • The Red Sox have asked the city of Boston to change “Yawkey Way” back to it’s original name, Jersey Street, given the public outcry over “complicated racial past under former owner Tom Yawkey.”
  • No, you can’t have it, it’s the Cubs’:

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami