Good friend and loyal commenter of the blog, Old Pro had an interesting comment that I had been thinking about ever since I saw the same information earlier in the week…
“We haven’t talked about this. It’s probably going to make a big difference in baseball this year, just because of the fact that MLB has admitted it before the season even begins:
MLB has de-juiced the baseball!
It will affect guys with huge power a little.
It will affect guys with moderate power moderately and it will affect guys with little power a lot.
They are telling us they are cutting down on the distance the baseball will travel.
Look for fewer home runs this year. Teams with a lineup of players capable of solid contact and high BA could do damage.
Outfield defense could come into play with fewer balls over the fence and more bouncing around out there.”
What’s interesting is that this is occurring after a season when offenses were down during the pandemic shortened 2020 season. The American League went from scoring 4.88 runs/game and slashing .253 BA/ .323 OBP/ .762 OPS in 2019 and dropped to 4.58 runs/ game and slashing .243/.319/.733 in 2020. The Astros had an even more extreme drop, falling from 5.68 runs/game and slashing .274 BA/ .352 OBP/ .848 OPS to a very mediocre 4.65 runs/game and a .240/.312/.720 slash. One could argue that the hitters were perhaps not fully prepared after the COVID interrupted preparations for the season. But then “One” would have to explain why this affected the hitters more than the pitchers.
A more cynical person than this writer (which would be quite a stretch), might ponder about a conspiracy theory where major league baseball further punishes the Astros by having opposing teams “test” the new un-juiced balls on the Houston nine. Of course watching the actual games in 2020, the Astros batting woes seemed mostly self-inflicted and possibly as much mental as physical as they tried to “prove” how they were not cheaters.
Still, it seems a strange time to take the helium out of the baseball when you would think major league baseball would be trying to hype run-scoring as they try to hold folks interest in the game. Now, again the cynical side may think that they are trying to repress stats and salaries, too. Sure the pitcher’s stats would improve, but there are more front line hitters than pitchers on each team. Or are they trying again to shorten games?
Will a deflated ball (did they get the idea from Tom Brady) affect the Astros much in 2021? Perhaps some of the players who have concentrated too hard on launch angle will get back to good fundamentals. Having watched some really bad at bats by Jose Altuve for instance, anything that convinces him to go back to fundamentals is welcome.
If this helps those teams that have the better outfield defenses, the Astros may fall a bit this season. No one stands out as being able to fill centerfield to the same extent that George Springer did. Leftfield will be covered by an older version of Michael Brantley, plus a bit of Yordan Alvarez and Aledmys Diaz, so that may be a bit of a drop also. Right field should still be manned by Kyle Tucker, who did a solid job defensively for the team in 2020.
In the end, this is a change that affects all teams and hopefully affects our hometown heroes not that much worse than any other team.