NPB commissioner

Japanese baseball officials admit to altering the baseball to increase offense


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.

Rangers take Game 1 of ALDS against Blue Jays

Texas Rangers's Robinson Chirinos, right, is congratulated by teammate Rougned Odor on his two-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the fifth inning of baseball Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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With their ace on the mound in front of an electric home crowd, the Blue Jays seemingly came into Game 1 of the ALDS with the advantage over the Rangers. However, as these things often go during the playoffs, it didn’t work out that way.

Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor each homered off David Price as the Rangers beat the Blue Jays 5-3 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday.

Price gave up five runs over seven innings in the loss. The Rangers grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the third inning before Chirinos connected for a two-run homer in the fifth. Odor added a solo blast in the seventh inning for some insurance. Playoff success continues to elude Price. He’s now owns a 4.54 ERA in the postseason and is 0-6 as a starter.

Yovani Gallardo allowed two runs over five innings in the victory. Jose Bautista took Keone Kela deep in the sixth inning to draw the Blue Jays closer, but Jake Diekman followed with two perfect frames before Sam Dyson tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the save.

A big story in this game was injuries to key players. The Rangers lost Adrian Beltre in the third inning due to lower back stiffness. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson exited for precautionary reasons in the fifth inning after he took a knee to the head on a takeout slide. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Donaldson passed concussion protocol and is expected to be fine. Jose Bautista also exited the game with mild right hamstring tightness after eight innings, but he’s expected to be OK.

Game 2 will take place tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET. Cole Hamels will pitch for the Rangers while Marcus Stroman will attempt to keep the Blue Jays from going down 0-2 in the series.

Vin Scully to miss postseason after undergoing medical procedure

Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully announces he will return to broadcast his 67th, and last baseball season in 2016, during a news conference in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Dodgers announced this afternoon that legendary broadcaster Vin Scully underwent a “recommended medical procedure” this morning and will miss the the postseason. The good news is that he’s said to be “resting comfortably.”

Scully, who turns 88 next month, was expected to do radio broadcasts for the Dodgers the postseason. While he’ll skip the playoffs at the advice of his doctors, the Dodgers said that he’s looking forward to returning for his 67th season in the booth in 2016. Scully said in August that it will be his last.

On behalf of all baseball fans, get well soon, Mr. Scully.

Josh Donaldson leaves Game 1 of ALDS with head injury

Josh Donaldson

Both starting third basemen have left Game 1 of the Rangers-Blue Jays series with injuries.

Adrian Beltre exited with a back injury in the second inning and now Josh Donaldson has left the game an inning after taking a knee to the head while trying to break up a double play.

It’s natural to wonder if Donaldson suffered a concussion on the play, particularly since Justin Morneau, then of the Twins, had his career derailed by a knee to the head on a nearly identical takeout slide in Toronto back in 2010. For now the Blue Jays are saying Donaldson left as a “precaution,” but as a Twins fan that play immediately flashed into my mind.

Donaldson will either win or finish runner-up for AL MVP after hitting .297 with 41 homers and a .939 OPS in 158 games during his first season in Toronto.