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Triple-A homers increased by nearly 60 percent this season thanks to juiced baseball

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Minor league broadcaster and writer Tim Hagerty tweeted last night that the now-concluded Triple-A season absolutely shattered its all-time home run record. Last year there were 3,652 homers in the top minor league. This year: 5,749. The only significant difference between this year and last year: the introduction of the major league ball to the minors.

As Jayson Stark of The Athletic notes this morning, that number includes a 59 percent increase in homers in the Pacific Coast League over last year and a 57 percent increase in the International League.  Stark talks with a baseball executive who tells him that, from a development perspective, the PCL has now become essentially useless, and they are sending prospects to Double-A instead because the juiced ball is preventing clubs from accurately assessing players.

As J.J. Cooper of Baseball America convincingly argued a month ago, it is 100% the ball, too, in case any of you feel like claiming it’s about “launch angle” or what have you. The numbers in all the other minor leagues, which did not adopt the big league ball for 2019, are on par with the past several seasons. If there was some philosophical shift (a) it wouldn’t happen simultaneously for the Triple-A affiliates of all 30 teams; and (b) it would extend to Double-A and single-A.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball’s last comments about the very obviously juiced baseball were about how the “pill” is maybe more perfectly centered now, reducing drag, as if it’s some near undetectable flaw causing only slight change. These numbers — as well as the multiple studies showing clear changes in the seams and flight characteristics of the ball and the many, many complaints from big league pitchers about how the ball is obviously different on feel alone — present a pretty strong rebuttable to the claim that this is a tiny difference.

UPDATE: From Cooper, some numbers showing just how stark the Triple-A home run explosion has been:

Yasiel Puig is still a free agent

Yasiel Puig
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Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.

There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.

The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.