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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 20: The baseballs have changed

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Much has been written about the composition and performance of baseballs over the last couple of years. In 2017, Five Thirty Eight’s Rob Arthur pointed out that newer baseballs have a lower drag coefficient, which led to longer fly balls and which, in turn, likely led to the surge in home runs over the previous few seasons. In 2018 a new study emerged that, not only do the balls fly farther, but that they also can cause blisters.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist, took apart some baseballs and studied the composition in a study for The Athletic. She found that the seams in newer baseballs are nine percent thicker than seams used on 2014 baseballs. Wills pointed out that thicker laces make the baseball less likely to deform after contact with the bat, keeping spherical symmetry. That, Major League Baseball concluded in its own study, likely reduced the ball’s drag. Wills observes that the thicker laces could also lead to the increase in blisters on pitchers’ fingers. Many pitchers have suspected this for some time. The study shows they are right to suspect it.

Why are the balls different now? No one really knows or, at any rate, no one will admit it if they know. Major League Baseball has suggested it could be a simple manufacturing error.

Now that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings, I suppose it’s their responsibility going forward, eh?

Report: Mets sign Brad Brach to one-year, $850,000 contract

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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Mets and free agent reliever Brad Brach have agreed on a one-year deal worth $850,000. The contract includes a player option for the 2021 season with a base salary of $1.25 million and additional performance incentives.

Brach, 33, signed as a free agent with the Cubs this past February. After posting an ugly 6.13 ERA over 39 2/3 innings, the Cubs released him in early August. The Mets picked him up shortly thereafter. Brach’s performance improved, limiting opposing hitters to six runs on 15 hits and three walks with 15 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings through the end of the season.

While Brach will add some much-needed depth to the Mets’ bullpen, his walk rate has been going in the wrong direction for the last three seasons. It went from eight percent in 2016 to 9.5, 9.7, and 12.8 percent from 2017-19. Needless to say the Mets are hoping that trend starts heading in the other direction next season.