NPB Commissioner denies that altered baseballs impacted Wladimir Balentien’s home run surge

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Remember back in June when NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato was forced to admit that the league had altered the baseballs in order to increase offense? Yeah, well Kato now wants you to know that Wladimir Balentien’s imminent Japanese home run record has nothing to do with the doctored balls:

“I doubt the ball really has anything to do with it. He is hitting that many because he has become used to (Japanese pitchers),” Kato told reporters Monday. This season, Japanese baseball has seen a marked increase in the number of home runs hit using the livelier ball.

Like any other baseball league the NPB and its records are subject to context changes, be it park size, ball composition or what have you. Rogers Maris’ home run record in 1961 was no doubt aided by league expansion. The home run records of the 90s and 2000s were the product of PEDs, expansion, smaller ballparks and — I remain convinced though no one has ever admitted it — a new baseball introduced in 1993.

What I wonder, though, is whether Japanese baseball is covered by writers who, like their American counterparts, pick and choose which objective empirical feats to credit and which to reject. And if Balentien’s legacy in the NPB will suffer as a result.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.