THE LONG BALL IS BACK

Astros’ Justin Verlander calls out MLB on balls

Justin Verlander does not like being lied to by MLB. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Now that Major League Baseball has done their best to take “the juice” out of the players, have they essentially injected it into the baseballs?

Based on a new study by FiveThirtyEight.com, MLB executed obvious changes to the baseball that have resulted in a record number of home runs, despite the fact the league continues to deny it has changed the balls and that they all fall within the acceptable ranges for baseballs.

Astros’ star Justin Verlander is calling baseball’s bluff.

“All I’m saying is I don’t care if balls are juiced (seriously). We’re all using the same ball so it’s a fair field. My issue is I don’t like being lied to. I knew something was different. Century old records are being broken and numbers are skewed.”  

This was tweeted by Verlander on his personal account Thursday evening, and he followed it with a graph depicting Home Run tendencies based on exit velocity and launch angle.  The graph showed a significant spike in home runs from 2014 to 2017 with similar numbers in each regard.  You can see the graph in his tweet below.

https://twitter.com/JustinVerlander/status/969390004769316864

During the 2017 World Series, several pitchers remarked how the ball felt ‘slicker’, making it harder for them to get a grip on the ball and more difficult to throw breaking pitches.  Other noticed factors to baseballs have been that the ball’s seams are lower and tighter, and that the ball is bouncier than in the past.

MLB has maintained the baseballs fall within normal ranges, but the fact is those ranges are quite substantial and baseball closely guards what those ranges are.

Rob Arthur and Tim Dix of FiveThirtyEight.com had baseballs examined by scientists from the University of Southern California and Kent State University.  The balls were also X-Rayed.

What they learned is that the cores of the new balls weighed less and had a lower density.  Alone, those changes wouldn’t equate the home run surge.  However when you combine this information with previous research conducted by TheRinger.com with The Baseball Research Center at UMass Lowell, and Washington State University, which show lower seams, as well as differences in circumference, all these changes together have combined to create a ball that travels further than its predecessors used before the All Star Break in 2015. (You can see their research here: https://www.theringer.com/2017/6/14/16044264/2017-mlb-home-run-spike-juiced-ball-testing-reveal-155cd21108bc)

So 2017 saw the most home runs hit, ever.  It blew the old record, set in 2000, out of the water.  While top power hitters aren’t hitting insane numbers of home runs, guys who aren’t power hitters are hitting more home runs.  This indicates that the power shift isn’t individual player related or something to be explained by certain big time hitters using some sort of performance enhancer to inflate home run totals.

While MLB continues to stonewall everyone with the idea the balls are within their allowable range, and act like there isn’t a difference that would create an environment where home runs would surge, ace pitchers like Verlander who handle these baseballs incessantly know and feel the difference.

Thursday, Verlander called MLB out. It’s time for many more players to do the same, and force the league to adopt far stricter models for its baseballs to maintain the game’s integrity.

Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate & Creight” heard weekdays 1-3pm on SportsMap 94.1FM, as well as the host of “Sports & Shenanigans” Sundays 12-5p on SB Nation Radio.  Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1

 

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5 questions on the John Wall trade

The Rockets made a big move. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets point guard carousel continued to spin Wednesday night, as the Woj bomb-iest of Houston-related Woj bombs erupted in the Space City:

For the third year in a row, the Rockets will begin the season with a new point guard, in an attempt to finally find someone that can play alongside James Harden. Let's take a look at how the Rockets got to this point, and what it means moving forward.

What led to the trade?

Russell Westbrook simply wanted out. Westbrook is the type of player that needs to be the number one ball handler and that simply wasn't ever going to happen on a James Harden led team. Other reports cited Westbrook's frustration with the lack of accountability and casual atmosphere within the locker room. Ultimately if anyone was going to be moved between Harden and Westbrook, it was always going to be Westbrook.

Why John Wall?

This one is another fairly straightforward answer: they both have relatively similar contracts. Each is making an absurdly overpriced $40 million this season, and both were disgruntled with their current team. Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone and Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard tossed the idea around a few weeks ago, but couldn't find a deal they liked. It was reported that discussions resumed Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours the deal was done in an almost one-for-one swap.

How does Wall fit?

This is a little more complicated because it's not exactly known what head coach Stephen Silas' game plan is. It's also difficult to predict whether or not Harden will still be on the roster when the season starts. But let's assume that Harden takes the court for the Rockets and that Silas' system resembles something similar to what we've seen in Houston for the past few years. In that case, Wall would be a slight upgrade to Westbrook. Westbrook is more athletic than Wall, but when healthy Wall was no slouch. In addition he's a much better defensive player and has much better court vision than Westbrook. Westbrook's assists were usually a bailout after attacking the lane with his head down, while Wall is more likely to set up a teammate.

This isn't to say that Wall doesn't need the ball though. He's fairly ball dominant, but not nearly as much as Westbrook. Harden proved last season that he's capable of effectively playing off the ball if necessary, so it seems like a better fit from a distribution rate alone. If they can find that sweet spot like they did with Chris Paul and stagger the lineups so that each star gets their own time to create, there's potential for an improved Rockets team more reminiscent of their 2018 run than the past two years.

What are the best and worst case scenarios?

The worst case is that the Rockets were sold a lemon. Wall has potential to be an upgrade, but comes with huge risk. He last took the court in 2018, where he was sidelined with a knee injury. He subsequently ruptured his Achilles in an accident at his home while recovering from the knee injury, forcing Wall off the court for almost two years. It's possible an extremely unfortunate Wall reinjures something and completely derails the machinations of the trade. Even if he's recovered fully, it will take time to get him up to game speed which could frustrate Harden on a team that can't afford a slow start in their stacked conference. Harden has managed to cultivate drama with just about every co-star he's played with, so there's no reason to assume this attempt would go any better.

The best case scenario is that Wall arrives ready to play team basketball and resembles the better part of his pre-injury form. Wall and Harden buy into Silas' new system, space the floor, and take turns carving up the lane with dribble drives and kick outs to players who can actually hit from distance. This version of the Rockets could potentially be a 3-seed in this year's Western Conference.

Who won the trade?

At the moment the Rockets. Not only did they remove at least one of their locker room distractions, but they also gain a first round pick. If Wall can stay healthy and Silas can keep both stars happy, this team should be a lot more fun to watch than last season's clunker.

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