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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:

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.”