Author: D.J. Short

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers

Report: MLB could change strike zone to boost offense

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When Rob Manfred first replaced Bud Selig as commissioner late last month, he said that he was looking into the possibility of eliminating defensive shifts to help boost offense around the game. It was a radical idea and not a very good one, but it appears that MLB is considering something else. And this one actually makes a lot of sense.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, MLB is considering altering the definition of the strike zone. The belief is that calling the low strike has helped contribute to the drop in offense. Potentially returning the strike zone to the top of the knee could change that:

Concern around baseball about the strike zone filtered down to the MLB’s Playing Rules Committee, which must formally adopt a rules change before it’s implemented. The committee will pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016 after studies showed it has expanded significantly since 2009, coinciding with a precipitous dip in run scoring. Of particular concern, sources said, is the low strike, a scourge not only because it has stretched beyond the zone’s boundaries but is considered a significantly more difficult pitch to hit.

Runs per game fell to 4.07 in 2014, the lowest mark since 1981 and the 13th fewest since World War II, and studies from The Harball Times’ Jon Roegele and Florida professor Brian Mills pegged the low strike as a significant culprit.

Since 2009, the average size of the called strike zone has jumped from 435 square inches to 475 square inches, according to Roegele’s research. The results: Pitchers are throwing more in the lower part of the zone, and hitters are swinging at an increased rate, knowing the tough-to-drive pitches will be called strikes.

Roegele’s study estimated 31 percent of the offensive drought could be attributed to the strike zone while Mills’ estimated it’s between 24 percent and 41 percent. After seeing a strong correlation among the size of the strike zone, all-time-high strikeout rates and historically low walk rates, members of the committee now are fairly certain the relationship is causative, too, and seem primed to do something about it.

This was always the most simple and logical solution to increasing offense, so it’s encouraging to hear that MLB is at least looking into it. And good on folks like Jon Roegele and Brian Mills for putting the numbers out there for everyone to see. See, analytics aren’t so bad.

It’s worth noting that even if the Playing Rules Committee makes a proposal to change the strike zone, it would have to be approved by the World Umpires Association and MLBPA before going into effect. Some might say that trying to boost offense while also addressing pace-of-play seems counter-intuitive, but both have the goal of making the game more appealing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson went to an arbitration hearing Thursday

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The Blue Jays lost their case against Danny Valencia last week, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that they went to another arbitration hearing today with third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson, who was acquired from the Athletics in late November, requested a $5.75 million salary for 2015 and was offered a $4.3 million by the Blue Jays when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. The three-person panel of arbitrators will pick one salary or the other and we should know their decision as soon as tomorrow. It’s a little awkward for this to go to a hearing considering the Blue Jays just acquired Donaldson, but they are known as a “file-to-trial” team, meaning that they cease negotiations on a one-year deal once arbitration figures are exchanged.

Donaldson, 29, batted .255/.342/.456 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI over 158 games last season. He’s under team control through the 2018 season.

Braves reliever Shae Simmons undergoes Tommy John surgery

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The Braves announced this afternoon that reliever Shae Simmons underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. The 24-year-old will miss the entire 2015 season.

A hard-throwing right-hander, Simmons posted a 2.91 ERA and 23/11 K/BB ratio over 21 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2014 prior to missing the final two months of the season due to lingering shoulder soreness. The Braves were expecting him to be a part of their bullpen this year, but Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports that he felt discomfort in his elbow during a bullpen session last week before getting the bad news.

The Braves have brought in a host of veteran bullpen arms over the past few days, including Jose Veras, Matt Capps, and Todd Coffey, which makes a lot more sense now that we know about Simmons. Jason Grilli and Veras figure to be the top candidates to set up for Craig Kimbrel.

CC Sabathia hopes to get back to being a workhorse in 2015

CC Sabathia
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CC Sabathia amassed at least 200 innings in seven consecutive seasons from 2007-2013, but he made just eight starts last year before undergoing season-ending surgery on his right knee in July. He’s hoping to get back to being a workhorse in 2015.

According to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, Sabathia told ESPN that everything continues to go well in his rehab and he’s ready to report to spring training next week. The veteran southpaw also stated that he has a goal of making 30 starts this season.

“That was the shortest year, having my year cut short by injury last year,” Sabathia said. “Hopefully this year I can go out and try to make 30 starts and just be healthy and try to help the team win.”

Sabathia managed to avoid a serious microfracture surgery, but he still had a bone spur removed and was told by doctors that his knee will never be 100 percent for the rest of his playing career. As a result, his knee will require constant maintenance moving forward. He had a stem cell injection last August and will have his knee drained regularly and receive platelet-rich plasma injections. That’s not the rosiest scenario for someone who is owed $48 million over the next two seasons with a $25 million vesting option or $5 million buyout for 2017.

Sabathia, 34, owns a 4.87 ERA in 40 starts dating back to the start of 2013 and his velocity has declined along with it. The Yankees can’t count on him as a frontline starter at this point, but if he can adjust to his new normal and get back to his inning-eating ways, they would probably be pretty happy with that.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. reiterates that he expects Cole Hamels to begin the year with the Phillies

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Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said late last month that he was expecting left-hander Cole Hamels to still be with the team when the season begins. In the wake of James Shields’ deal with the Padres, ESPN’s Jayson Stark asked Amaro about Hamels’ status again today. His answer hasn’t changed:

“I would expect him to be in spring training with the Phillies. And I would expect him to be our Opening Day starter. I don’t know that for sure. That could change in a phone call or two, just like with anyone else. But I would expect him to be in camp.”

The Padres were linked heavily to Hamels in recent weeks, but barring something unexpected, that possibility is now likely off the board now that Shields is in the fold. Amaro said that he is still talking with several teams about Hamels, but that they “haven’t gotten to the finish line with those teams.” The substantial asking price is a big reason for that.

Stark hears that Amaro is telling teams that he needs to “win the deal” in order to trade Hamels and the Phillies are willing to pay little or none of the $96 million remaining on his contract. So not only do you have to give up a ton of talent, but you have to pay a lot of money too. Still, you can understand why the Phillies are holding firm on their asking price, as Hamels is one of the best left-handers in the game and the biggest chip in their rebuilding effort.

Amaro conceded that things could change with Hamels if a team has an injury or reevaluates their situation, but it sounds like he’s prepared to turn his focus to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.