Home runs and batting average have increased sharply in the NPB this season, and after months of denying that the ball had been altered in any way, Japanese baseball officials are admitting that they tinkered with it in order to “make the game more exciting” and increase offense:
Players and fans had repeatedly quizzed Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) bosses after seeing a 40 percent rise in the number of balls that were slugged out of the park so far this season.
In April NPB said the specifications of their ball — each of which bears the signature of its commissioner Ryozo Kato — “have not been changed”, a statement that was repeated several times since.
But on Tuesday NPB came clean, saying they had asked manufacturer Mizuno to “adjust” the ball to give it greater bounce off the bat and demanded the company keep quiet about the switch.
Altering baseballs is not unprecedented in baseball history, of course. In 1930 offense made the so-called Steroid Era look like 1982 or something. Half the teams scored 900 runs or more and the average hitter in the American League — just the AVERAGE ones — hit .303/.360/.448. That winter baseball deadened the balls a bit, with the AL altering the stitching and the NL doing both that and adding a cover to its balls. Offense went down significantly in 1931, more so for the NL.
1987 is widely suspected to be another year in which the ball was altered. Baseball has never admitted to doing anything, but the season was an offensive aberration and unlike other eras of changing offense it was an outlier, with the next and previous years looking pretty similar and no other explanation that makes a lick of sense.
I strongly suspect that the baseballs were altered again in the 1990s. There were multiple explanations for increased offense at that time, including double expansion, much smaller parks, smaller strike zones, different hitting approaches and, of course, performance enhancing drugs, but I’ve always thought that the baseball had something to do with it too. Not that anyone ever wants to blame anything other than steroids.
But I think this NPB story shows that it doesn’t take much for offense to increase significantly. Sometimes just a change in the ball. Which league officials are inclined to deny.
Jose Bautista‘s bat flip from the 2015 playoffs has crossed sporting lines. Now, in addition to it angering old school killjoys and “play the game the right way” lame-os, you can use the bat flip to taunt your opponents in video game hockey.
That’s because the new “NHL ’17” game allows you to pick your own goal celebration. And one of them is the Bautista bat flip. It was discovered by a guy beta testing the game:
Why you’d pick any of the other celebrations is beyond me, but I suppose you can do what you’d like.
8:47 AM: The Padres may be giving up two pitchers, but they’re getting a nice return. Early reports have first baseman Josh Naylor, the Marlins’ top position playing prospect, heading to San Diego. Naylor, the Marlins’ first round pick in 2015, is currently in A-ball, where he’s hitting .269/.317/.430 with nine homers and 54 RBI in 89 games. He has no real defensive value but he’s only 19 and is expected to hit wherever he goes. Naylor, from Canada, recently played in the Futures Game, where he had two hits and drove in a run for the World team.
8:31 AM: Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins are also getting pitcher Colin Rea from Padres. Rea has started 18 games this year for San Diego, posting a 4.98 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 76/44 in 99 and a third innings. He’s definitely more innings eater than effective starter, but the Marlins are clearly looking to throw as many pitchers at the problem as they can get. Plus: Rea is under team control through 2021 and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2019, so he’ll be with Miami for a long time if they want him.
8:29 AM: Ken Rosenthal just reported that this trade is “bigger than just Cashner,” and that the Marlins may be getting more from the Padres. So stay tuned.
8:26 AM: Buster Olney reports that the San Diego Padres have traded pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Miami Marlins. There’s no word yet on the return.
This is a rental of a guy with a live arm but who has experienced some mighty struggles this season. Cashner is 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA and a 67/30 K/BB ratio in 79 1/3 innings. He missed over three weeks between June 11 and July 2 due to a strained neck. A righty, Cashner is earning $9.625 million this season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.
Miami has been in desperate need to upgrade the back of its rotation. If Cashner can regain the form he showed before injuries slowed him down in the past two seasons, he will be an upgrade. That’s not necessarily a pipe dream — he’s pitched pretty well of late — and he certainly has some incentive to show what he can do down the stretch to potential suitors this coming offseason.
The Marlins currently sit five games back of the Nationals in the NL East and are tied with the Cardinals for the second wild card slot.