Rays pick Davis over Sonnanstine as fifth starter

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Joe Maddon announced that rookie Wade Davis has won the final spot in the Rays’ rotation, with Andy Sonnanstine heading to the bullpen after making 72 starts over the past three seasons.
Sonnanstine pitched well in 2008, winning 13 games with a 4.38 ERA and 124/37 K/BB ratio as a 25-year-old, but got knocked around for a 6.77 ERA and .311 opponents’ batting average in 99.2 innings last season. He’s a control pitcher with a fastball that tops out in the high-80s, so he figures to be more of a long reliever than late-inning option.
Davis’ control is perhaps his biggest weakness, but his fastball regularly approaches the mid-90s and he looked very good in a six-start September call-up after posting a 3.40 ERA and 140/60 K/BB ratio in 158.2 innings at Triple-A last season. He projects as a potential mid-rotation starter, although Davis may not get enough strikeouts or ground balls to thrive without cutting down on walks at least somewhat.
Opening Day starter James Shields is the oldest pitcher in the Rays’ rotation at 28, followed by Jeff Niemann (27), Matt Garza (26), David Price (24), and Davis (24). And they also have 23-year-old stud prospect Jeremy Hellickson likely beginning the season at Triple-A.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.