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Nationals extend GM Mike Rizzo through 2020

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Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was a lame duck this year. He’s not lame anymore: the Nats just agreed to a two-year contract extension, taking him through the 2020 season.

The Nats have a a .572 winning percentage since Rizzo took over as the GM in 2009, have won four division championships and are currently on a string of six consecutive winning seasons. During his tenure the club has drafted Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, traded for Trea Turner and Adam Eaton and signed free agents Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy. He has transformed the club from a bottom-dweller to one of the best in the game. The only knock on the club in that time is its inability to escape the first round of the playoffs, though that’s not the sort of thing in a GM’s control.

Rizzo will have some challenges to face in the next couple of years. Chief among them: Bryce Harper will be a free agent this winter and will either cause the Nats to have to totally alter their budget to keep him or cause them to fill the hole his departure will cause if he leaves.

Rizzo will now be handling that task with at least some job security. Not a ton, actually — other top baseball executives like Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein have recently received five-year deals. Even others who, like Rizzo, do not have a World Series ring, have gotten longer pacts. Given the age and makeup of this team, however, it’s also the case that, come 2020, ownership is facing a totally different situation than it is now, so they may want the flexibility.

MLB’s juiced baseball is juicing Triple-A home run totals too

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There has been considerable evidence amassed over the past year or two that the baseball used by Major League Baseball has a lower aerodynamic profile, leading to less drag, which leads directly to more home runs. If you doubted that at all, get a load of what is happening in Triple-A right now.

The minors have always had different balls than the majors. The MLB ball is made in Costa Rica at a Rawlings facility. The minor league balls are made in China. They use slightly different materials and, by all accounts, the minor league balls do not have the same sort of action and do not travel as far as the big league balls. Before the season, as Baseball America reported, Major League Baseball requested that Triple-A baseball switch to using MLB balls. The reason: uniformity and, one presumes, more accurate analysis of performance at the top level of the minor leagues.

The result, as Baseball America reports today, is a massive uptick in homers in the early going to the Triple-A season:

Last April, Triple-A hitters homered once every 47 plate appearances. As the weather warmed up, so did the home run rate. Over the course of the entire 2018 season, Triple-A hitters homered every 43 plate appearances. So far this year, they are homering every 32 plate appearances. Triple-A hitters are hitting home runs at a rate of 135 percent of last year’s rate.

Again, that’s in the coldest, least-homer friendly month of the season. It’s gonna just get worse. Or better, I guess, if you’re all about the long ball.

Which you had better be, because if they did something to deaden the balls and reduce homers, we’d have the same historically-high strikeout and walk rates but with no homers to provide offense to compensate. At least unless or until hitters changed their approach to become slap hitters or something, but that could take a good while. And may still not be effective given the advances in defense since the last time slap hitting was an important part of the game.

In the meantime, enjoy the dingers, Triple-A fans.