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Rob Manfred still thinks other factors contributed to rise in homers

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In 2017, analysts began asking questions about the rise in home runs across baseball. Two studies were published — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchell Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by Rob Arthur for FiveThirtyEight — with each concluding that baseballs seem to have been altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred was disingenuous speaking about the issue, releasing a statement in July 2017 and then speaking about it to the press during the postseason in October that year. Manfred reiterated that the baseball wasn’t changed, then disingenuously claimed players, fans, and analysts were being distracted by Game 2 of the World Series, which saw the Astros and Dodgers combine to hit eight home runs. Then-Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said the next day, “Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100 percent.” Keuchel joined fellow pitchers Justin Verlander, David Price, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, and Chris Archer among those to have spoken publicly about feeling a difference with the baseball.

MLB commissioned its own study — published on May 24, 2018 — on the rise of homers across the league. The executive summary concluded that the rise in home runs is attributable to “a decrease in the ball’s drag properties, which cause it to carry further than previously, given the same set of initial conditions—exit velocity, launch and spray angle, and spin.” Manfred acknowledged the study, saying, “I thank the committee for all of its hard work on this important issue. Based on the results of their study, I am accepting their recommendations immediately and look forward to their continued guidance in this area.”

Shortly after MLB published its study Dr. Meredith Wills performed her own research for The Athletic. She took apart and examined 26 baseballs, 12 from the 2014 season and 14 from the 2016-17 seasons. Wills found that the only statistically significant difference between her two samples was lace thickness. The 2016-17 baseballs’ laces were nine percent thicker. In a follow-up piece for The Athletic in September last year, Wills performed more research. This time, her two samples of baseballs were 20 from the 2010-14 seasons and 12 from April and May of 2018. She found that the baseballs in her 2018 sample were smaller in diameter near the seams. Wills wrote, “These findings suggest that balls made after 2015 have less bulging at the seams, meaning they are more spherically symmetric, and thus have lower drag.”

On Wednesday, Manfred spoke at the SportTechie State of the Industry conference. Per Eric Fisher of the SportsBusiness Journal, Manfred said that the recent rise in home runs has to do with non-ball factors more so than any change to the makeup of the baseball. He cited training, analytics, and coaching as reasons for the surge in dingers. It is interesting that Manfred continues to go against well-sourced evidence on the matter. It is also interesting that the commissioner is contradicting the findings of his own league’s study.

I don’t know what the end-game is for Manfred here. Being publicly disingenuous on the topic will only draw more attention to it. The makeup of the baseball very reasonably could have been altered inadvertently by the manufacturer. They are ultimately put together by hand, which makes them more prone to non-conformity. No one is accusing Major League Baseball of a vast conspiracy to change the baseballs to boost home run rates in an effort to boost interest. Manfred’s constant defensiveness on the topic, however, isn’t doing him or the league any favors.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”