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Rob Manfred thinks bats are to blame for home run spike

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Yesterday commissioner Manfred was asked about the home run spike that began in the middle of the 2015 season. Specifically, he was asked about the reports — based on studies by Mitchel Lichtman and Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer and by Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight — that variations in the baseball are the likely reason for so many balls flying out of the park.

The studies aside — and the sentiment of players, many of whom suspect the ball has been altered aside — Manfred blew off the notion that the ball could be different, falling back on the silly talking point that the balls are within the “established guidelines” of variance under MLB regulations. It’s a silly talking point because, as Lichtman, Lindbergh and Arthur demonstrated, the range is extraordinarily large and can account for vast differences in how far a ball flies. The ball, in fact, could be altered to create a massive spike in homers and still remain within baseball’s broad parameters.

So where is Manfred going with this? Here:

“One thing that we’re thinking about is bats. We’ve kind of taken for granted that bats aren’t different. We’re starting to look at the issue of bats.”

This makes little sense. As the studies have demonstrated, the spike in homers began more or less uniformly across baseball in the second half of the 2015 season. Balls are provided by a single source. Bats come from multiple manufacturers, built to customized and widely varying specifications based on the preference of players. What’s more, they are replaced at far more staggered intervals than baseballs are. If alterations in the bat, rather than the ball, were to lead to more homers, the homers would increase in a far more gradual and staggered manner as players talk to one another and share information about their “new bats,” and instruct their bat manufacturer to make them just so.

So, if the bats are not the most likely explanation — and if Manfred can cite no basis beyond his personal suspicion that the bats have changed — why would he suggest the bats as a culprit?

I suspect he’s doing so in order to deflect any blame thrown at Major League Baseball for altering the ball. Or for some unintentional variation in its manufacture which had the same effect (whether it’s intentional or a matter of poor quality control, the ball is ultimately Major League Baseball’s responsibility). Manfred, I suspect, is well aware that fans and the press react hostility to changes in the competitive context of baseball and he wants to head off any accusation that the league put its finger on the scale in favor of hitters. After all, that very situation caused his counterpart in Japan to lose his job.

If he blames the bats, however, he blames the players and the bat manufacturers, over which the league has far less supervision and responsibility. If the home run surge is seen as artificial and it doesn’t play well with the public, it’s those darn players, once again trying to gain an advantage! Manfred, of course, was at the forefront of Major League Baseball’s efforts to cast the players as the sole villains of the PED era. It’s territory with which he is quite familiar.

The dumbest thing about all of this? It probably shouldn’t matter. People get bent out of shape about changes in baseball’s competitive environment, but the only constant in baseball is such contextual change. We had the Deadball Era, the crazy offensive-heavy era of the 20s and 30s, boring station-to-station baseball of the so-called Golden Age, the new deadball era of the 1960s which led to an increase in the running game, the PED era, the low offensive era of the early 2010s and now today’s home run happy era. Some of those changes were more . . . artificial than others. Some intentional, some not. The game still went on and likely always will.

Whatever good and bad all of that entailed, Manfred, seems determined to establish that today’s era is not the work of anyone at Major League Baseball. If there will be blame, it will fall on the players. Or, at the very least, will be deflected from MLB in some way. If he has the evidence for that and can be bothered to make it public, wonderful. Until then: his comments on this should be basically ignored.

Cole Hamels done for year after just 1 start for Braves

Cole Hamels triceps injury
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ATLANTA — After making just one start for the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels is done for the season.

Hamels reported shortly before the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins that he didn’t feel like he could get anything on the ball. The left-hander was scheduled to make his second start Tuesday after struggling throughout the year to overcome shoulder and triceps issues.

The Braves placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Sept. 18,, but that was a mere formality. General manager Alex Anthopoulos already contacted Major League Baseball about replacing Hamels in the team’s postseason player pool.

“Cole knows himself and his body,” Anthopoulos said. “You trust the player at that point when he says he can’t go.”

The Braves began Monday with a three-game lead in the NL East .and primed for their third straight division title.

Even with that success, Atlanta has struggled throughout the shortened 60-game series to put together a consistent rotation beyond Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson.

Expected ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending injury, former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was demoted after just one start, and Sean Newcomb also was sent to the alternate training site after getting hammered in his four starts.

The Braves have used 12 starters this season.

Anthopoulos had hoped to land another top starter at the trade deadline but the only deal he was able to make was acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles. He’s on the injured list after getting hammered in three starts for the Braves, giving up 22 hits and 16 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

“There’s no doubt that our starting pitching has not performed to the level we wanted it to or expected it to,” Anthopoulos said. “I know that each year you never have all parts of your club firing. That’s why depth is so important.”

Hamels, who signed an $18 million, one-year contract last December, reported for spring training with a sore shoulder stemming from an offseason workout.

When camps were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamels was able to take a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation. But a triceps issue sidelined again before the delayed start of the season in July.

The Braves hoped Hamels would return in time to provide a boost for the playoffs. He also was scheduled to start the final game of the regular season Sunday, putting him in position to join the postseason rotation behind Fried and Anderson.

Now, Hamels is done for the year, his Braves’ career possibly ending after he made that one appearance last week in Baltimore. He went 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, with two strikeouts and one walk in a loss to the Orioles.

Hamels reported no problems immediately after his start, but he didn’t feel right after a bullpen session a couple of days ago.

“You’re not going to try to talk the player into it,” Anthopoulos said. “When he says he isn’t right, that’s all we need to hear.”

Atlanta recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson to replace Hamels on the 28-man roster. The Braves did not immediately name a starter for Tuesday’s game.

With Hamels out, the Braves will apparently go with Fried (7-0, 1.96), Anderson (3-1, 2.36) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.74) as their top three postseason starters.

Hamels is a four-time All-Star with a career record of 163-122. He starred on Philadelphia’s World Series-winning team in 2008 and also pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Cubs.