ST. LOUIS — Are the baseballs traveling less distance in the postseason? Cardinals manager Mike Shildt says they are, at least according to data from the team’s analytics department.
Before Saturday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, Shildt said the front office reported that balls are traveling 4.5 fewer feet on average than during the regular season, when there were a record number of home runs hit.
“Our front-office analytical group is saying the ball’s not traveling at about a 4½-foot difference,” he said. “I don’t know how that impacts what you do as far as your matchups or more inclined to throw a fly ball guy, I mean, 4½ feet is not overly significant, maybe gives us an opportunity to rob someone of a homer a little bit more. But I don’t think it really impacts how you make decisions.”
Shildt’s NLCS counterpart, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez, said his defensive game plan in Game 1 took into account the decreased ball travel.
“Our outfield played a little shallower Replica Nike MLB Jerseys China knowing the ball isn’t traveling as far,” Martinez explained.
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A study published on Thursday by Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus argued that there has been more air resistance on the ball, thus limiting the distance it travels.
“The probability that a random selection of games from the rest of the regular season would feature as much air resistance as we’ve seen so far in the postseason is about one in one thousand,” Arthur wrote. His model estimated an additional 24 home runs should have been hit in the playoffs at the time beyond the 43 that had been hit.
In response to the talk that the postseason ball might be different, Major League Baseball issued the following statement: “The baseballs used in Major League Baseball are manufactured in batches. Balls that are used in the Postseason are pulled from the same batches as balls used in the regular season. The only difference is the Postseason stamp that is placed on the ball. As has been previously acknowledged, however, the drag of the baseball can vary over different time periods.”
Of course, aces such as Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer may have something to do with the decline. Weather is another factor, although Arthur largely debunked that notion in his article. It was 45 degrees in St. Louis at game time on Friday night, by far the coldest game of the postseason so far. (In the Cardinals’ division series against the Atlanta Braves, the temperatures were 94, 95, 63, 72 and 73.)
“I would say [Friday] it was just a matter of it being a little bit colder out and to have a day where it doesn’t travel as much, maybe just the weather changing,” Cardinals outfielder Tommy Edman said.
After a 2019 season that saw things go entirely sideways in Denver, changes figure to be afoot for the Rockies this offseason. Despite returning most of a roster that managed a postseason berth in 2018, Bud Black’s club whimpered to a 71-91 record this past season and likely would have ended up in the NL West cellar had it not been for a circumspective second-half collapse on the part of the rival Padres.
Nick Groke of The Athletic, for one, is already musing on potential changes that GM Jeff Bridich could make in an effort to get the club back in contention for 2020 (link). Specifically, Groke points out several players who could be on the “hot seat” this winter, given the club’s current 40-man roster squeeze. Five players currently on the club’s 60-day injured list–Brendan Rodgers, Scott Oberg, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis–will need to be moved off the IL this offseason, necessitating at least five impending roster decisions for Bridich. Groke identifies pitcher Jeff Hoffman as the man that should fall firmly into his club’s roster trimming crosshairs, as his age (26) and near-complete lack of production (6.11 ERA in 209.1 career innings) render his former top-50 prospect status little more than a wistful memory. Groke names ten other players as possible roster casualties, although Bridich signee Ian Desmond–who has produced a cumulative -1.7 fWAR in three Colorado seasons after agreeing to a 5-year/$70MM deal in 2016–is conspicuously absent from his list.
The New York Yankees are set to visit Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas for game 2 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros. The New York Yankees come into this matchup with a 1-0 record in this series, and they will be looking to continue their success after winning game 1 against the Houston Astros, 7-0. Masahiro Tanaka received the starting nod for the New York Yankees, and he had success as he went 6 scoreless innings while giving up only 1 hit. Gleyber Torres had a big game from the plate for the New York Yankees as he went 3 for 5 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs.
The New York Yankees are set to start James Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA) who struggled in his latest start as he gave up 3 earned runs in 4.2 innings against the Minnesota Twins. James Paxton struggled in his 2 starts against the Houston Astros during the 2019 season as he posted a 6.00 ERA.
The Houston Astros come into this matchup with a 0-1 record in this series, and they will be looking to rebound after dropping game 1 against the New York Yankees, 7-0. Zack Greinke received the starting nod for the Houston Astros, and he struggled as he gave up 3 earned runs in 6 innings. The Houston Astros struggled from the plate as they only recorded 3 hits, but Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, and Kyle Tucker were responsible for those hits.
Desmond has two years and $25MM in guarantees remaining on his deal (the pact includes a $15MM option for 2022 which is attached to a $2MM buyout), but it may be time to wonder if the club should swallow bravely and push the ’eject’ button on the ill-fated Desmond deal. While it would be enticing to believe that the former shortstop could be on the brink of a turnaround, there would be little hard evidence to support such a case: his .304 BABIP in three Colorado seasons is only marginally below his .321 career marker, and his 2019 XWOBA of .309 was right in line with his WOBA of .317; moreover, Desmond is 34 years old, and his troubles at the plate are really only the beginning of his performance problems.
When Desmond came to the Rockies in 2017, he was a distinct shortstop/centerfielder hybrid who, despite something of an inconsistent offensive track record, offered somewhat stable value on the bases and in the field. As you might expect for a player reaching his mid-thirties, much of that athletically dependent ability has appeared to abandon Desmond. 2019 marked the first time since 2012 that the native Floridian recorded a negative baserunning metric (-1.7 BSR), while his work in the Rockies outfield was generally a horrorshow. A move back to centerfield produced a -19 DRS mark in 2019 for Desmond, with UZR also generally thumbing its nose at his up-the-middle efforts (-7.2 UZR in 2019 at CF).
Admittedly, metrics indicated a roughly average performance for Desmond in 300-plus innings in left field, but can the club continue to justify running out an average-fielding corner outfielder with negative basepath value and a bat that has been markedly below-average in his three years in Colorado? After all, Desmond’s combined 80 wRC+ during his three years in purple and black is, in itself, indicative of a player who probably should not be long for a major league roster. Add in the other limitations to Desmond’s current game, and the patina of “veteran leadership” falls short of explaining his prospective inclusion on Colorado’s 2020 roster.
It is exceedingly rare to see club’s simply cut bait on $25MM in financial commitment. Still, when winning takes precedent, there is a recent parallel for weighting on-field results over balance sheet concerns. The Red Sox–though operating in an entirely different financial habitat than the Rockies–have continued to pay handsomely for the services of outfielder Rusney Castillo; all they’ve asked of Castillo in return is that he kindly provide those services to the Red Sox of Pawtucket, rather than Boston. Point being: when a pennant-seeking organization recognizes a player can’t play up to his contract, they do whatever it takes to sidestep a sunk cost fallacy. If the Rockies plan on contending in the next two seasons, they might be well served to begin their offseason roster trimming with a rather painful decision, rather than paring away mid-20’s players who may yet have their best baseball ahead of them.
Astros ace Justin Verlander continues to be outspoken about the effect ofAstros ace Justin Verlander continues to be outspoken about the effect of “juiced” baseballs on MLB. “There are so many different ways to love this baseball game that I think have kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit.” Video by Matt Marrone
In the Cardinals’ 2-0 loss to the Nationals in Game 1, Marcell Ozuna blasted a second-inning pitch from Anibal Sanchez at 105.8 mph with a 36-degree launch angle. According to Arthur on Twitter, a ball hit with that exit velocity and launch angle should have a 70% probability of being a home run. Granted, Ozuna hit to center field, the deepest part of the ballpark, but the ball died short of the warning track, 382 feet from home plate. Statcast, MLB’s statistical service, gave the ball an expected batting average of .690. Instead, it fell harmlessly into the glove of Michael Taylor.
“I thought Ozuna got his ball, based on the sound, based on the swing,” Shildt said. “But clearly it didn’t get out.”
Edman and Cardinals teammate Jose Martinez said there hasn’t been much talk among the players about the ball.
“I haven’t noticed anything different in the ball,” Edman said, asking Martinez if he had.
“I don’t think so,” Martinez said. “I think it’s just, I mean, the ball is not going — when you hit the ball it’s going to go out, it’s going to go out. For us, it’s nothing like we have to talk about.”
In the regular season, teams averaged a home run every 24.59 at-bats. Heading into Saturday’s games, they’ve averaged one every 26.87 at-bats. After averaging 4.83 runs per game in the regular season, scoring is down to 4.0 runs per game so far in the playoffs. Of course, the league’s better pitchers play more in the postseason and some teams haven’t had to dig down to their No. 4 starters yet, plus scoring usually goes down in the postseason — but not to this extent:
2014-2018: Down from 4.38 per game to 4.07
2019: Down from 4.83 per game to 4.0
During the division series, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he felt the ball had changed.
“Yeah, it’s interesting, there are a couple balls that I felt that — I don’t know the weather patterns of D.C., but that maybe you see the trajectory and the sound and it doesn’t seem like it’s traveling — even the Cody [Bellinger] ball that it seems like that ball, other times during the year, might have went out or went a little bit deeper in the ballpark. So I’m sure there’s going to be some digging on that, but yeah, it seems a little different.”
Justin Verlander, who said in July that he believed “100 percent” that MLB had implemented juiced balls to increase offense in the regular season, said on Saturday that he hasn’t noticed a difference in the ball so far in the postseason.
He did, however, call for a return to small ball, a strategy he said has faded from the game with the increase in home runs this year.
“You look at the course of an inning,” Verlander said, “we’re almost like playing an ADD (attention deficit disorder) version of baseball right now, where it’s these huge elation moments, home run, home run, yeah, yeah. And then you’re just kind of sitting there waiting for the next moment with a bunch of strikeouts in between. If you’re not a fan of strikeouts, then what are you watching?”