Did you ever notice that when baseball broadcasters start talking about the ninth-inning mentality and about all the setup men who couldn’t handle the closer’s role, they never go on to name names?
Moments after John Smoltz went on his little spiel about how not everyone can pitch the ninth Sunday, Phil Coke finished shutting down the Yankees for his first postseason save. Coke, closing in place of the beleaguered Jose Valverde, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three, in relief of Anibal Sanchez as the Tigers gave themselves a 2-0 ALCS lead.
By the way, this is the same Phil Coke…
– who gave up a .396 average to right-handed hitters this year. Righties were 40-for-101 with 13 extra-base hits against him.
– who had given up nine homers in 40 2/3 career innings at Yankee Stadium. Coke, of course, started his career with the Yankees before being included in the three-team Curtis Granderson-Austin Jackson-Ian Kennedy-Max Scherzer-Edwin Jackson deal that also included the Diamondbacks.
– who had a 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break this year.
Coke struggled enough that manager Jim Leyland lost some faith in him against right-handers. Coke made 20 appearances between August and September, but he pitched just 11 1/3 innings between them. He typically went a full innings in his outings early in the year (apart from Aug/Sept, he pitched 42 2/3 IP in 46 appearances).
And Coke did allow a hit to a right-hander today. Alex Rodriguez singled off him with two outs in the ninth. Somehow, Coke avoided collapsing from the pressure of the situation afterwards. He just did his usual thing (well, it’s everyone’s usual thing lately) and struck out the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson to end the game.
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.