Homer Bailey
Getty Images

Athletics acquire Homer Bailey

3 Comments

Right-hander Homer Bailey has been dealt to the Athletics, the team announced Sunday. Since Bailey is currently receiving the league minimum from the Royals, ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes, the Athletics will owe him no more than $250,000 for the remainder of the 2019 season. Kansas City is expected to receive top infield prospect Kevin Merrell in return.

The 33-year-old Bailey inked a minors deal with the Royals in advance of spring training. Since then, he’s put up a 7-6 record in 18 starts with a 4.80 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, and 8.1 SO/9 through 90 innings. While he isn’t the 3.00-ERA, 3.0+ fWAR, no-hitter hurler he was for the Reds in years past, he may yet improve his performance with the A’s as they vie for a wild card spot this summer. He was originally slated to start Sunday’s game against the Tigers, but was replaced by southpaw Brian Flynn prior to news of the trade.

Merrell, 23, was selected by the A’s in the first round of the 2017 amateur draft. The shortstop/second baseman made the jump to Double-A Midland in 2019 and slashed .246/.292/.339 with 19 extra bases, 13 stolen bases (in 17 chances), and a .631 OPS through 318 plate appearances. Per MLB Pipeline, he ranked 17th-best among the club’s prospects in 2019.

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

Getty Images
2 Comments

SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.