Aristides Aquino
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Video: Aristides Aquino ties Trevor Story’s rookie home run record

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Through Aristides Aquino’s first nine career games in Major League Baseball, he racked up four home runs. During his 10th career game, he hit three more, becoming the second player to notch a three-homer game in 2019 and the 29th franchise player to hit three or more home runs in a single game.

The Reds right fielder got his first opportunity in the second inning of Saturday’s set against the Cubs. Against Chicago righty Kyle Hendricks, Aquino took a first-pitch sinker out to left field, just clearing the wall for a 344-foot leadoff blast and his fifth home run of the year.

Aquino made efficient use of Hendricks’ pitches again in the third inning, lifting another middle-of-the-zone sinker out to left field for his second solo home run of the night. From there, the wheels started to fall off: Hendricks issued five consecutive hits to Nick Senzel, Tucker Barnhart, José Peraza, Sonny Gray, and Jesse Winker and was finally lifted for the newly-recalled Dillon Maples, who brought a swift and merciful end to the Reds’ four-run rally.

Aquino didn’t take it any easier on Maples than he had on Hendricks, however. In the fourth, he battled through a 1-2 count before returning Maples’ 96.7-m.p.h. fastball to center field for his third home run of the night. With seven home runs under his belt now, he tied Trevor Story‘s league-best rookie record of seven homers in his first 10 career games — a mark no one else has reached since Story first set it in 2016.

Had the rookie slugger tacked on another dinger to his performance on Saturday, he could have become the first MLB player to craft a four-homer game since 2017 and the first rookie to do so — ever. Alas, it was not to be: he took a four-pitch walk in the sixth and struck out swinging against Alec Mills for his final at-bat in the seventh. Still, it’s quite the accomplishment for the 25-year-old: through Saturday, he’s batting a cool .464/.500/1.250 with 13 RBI, a 1.750 OPS, and 0.5 fWAR across his first 30 PA.

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

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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.