Chicago Cubs: How many more MLB dingers in 2020?


by - Columnist -
Baez has big-time home run power for the Cubs (Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports)
Baez has big-time home run power for the Cubs (Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports)

We all know that there was absolutely nothing different about the baseballs used last year (wink, wink), at least that’s what Baseball Commissioner, Rob Manfred, says. Manfred steadfastly denies that he “ordered any changes” to the balls used, yet it somehow seems suspicious that MLB now owns Rawlings – a deal that cost MLB $395M back in June of 2018.

Hitters are all for the mysterious new balls, but pitchers? Not so much. The damage these new balls have done is measurable – and that’s not counting Anthony Rizzo’s blast that took out part of the Budweiser sign at Wrigley last year.

With the secret implementation of these new baseballs, the pitcher’s ERA’s have risen like crazy.

As I was looking through earned run averages recently for an article I was contemplating, I began to notice just how high the ERAs of even the best of the best were last year. You all know how much I like stats, so I warmed up the calculator and started crunching numbers. I looked at all five of the Cubs’ starters for last year, then looked at the top three starters for each of the other four teams in the NL Central. Going back five years for each (2014-2018), I calculated the average ERA, then compared it to their 2019 ERA. I also looked at home run averages over the same period.

For the most part, the difference was undoubtedly noticeable enough to be convinced that no matter what Manfred says, something was different – whether or not he actually “ordered” a change.

"They [Rawlings] haven't changed their process in any meaningful way. They haven't changed their materials. There are two points that I would make, even in the report last year: The scientists identified the pill in the baseball — not what it was actually composed of — but the centering of the pill in the baseball as something that could be a drag issue. To the extent that the pill is not perfectly centered, the ball wobbles when it's hit creates more drag. We think one of the things that may be happening is they're getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag." -Rob Manfred

Uh-huh.

Warning: If you’re not into statistics, you may want to stop here and check out the other great stuff on CubsHQ. Otherwise, read on to see just what the juiced balls are doing to ERAs and home run rates.

Cubs

Jon Lester: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.05; 2019 ERA: 4.46. Average home runs allowed: 21; 2019 home runs allowed: 26.

Yu Darvish: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.62; 2019 ERA: 3.98. Average home runs allowed: 17; 2019 home runs allowed: 33.

Kyle Hendricks: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.00; 2019 ERA: 3.46. Average home runs allowed: 15; 2019 home runs allowed: 19.

Cole Hamels: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.48; 2019 ERA: 3.81. Average home runs allowed: 21; 2019 home runs allowed: 17.

Jose Quintana 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.61; 2019 ERA: 4.68. Average home runs allowed: 19; 2019 home runs allowed: 20.

"I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings, and just coincidentally, the balls become juiced." – Justin Verlander

Brewers

Craig Counsell had his hands full trying to decide who’d be starting which games last year, but I took three of their most solid starters for the comparison.

Freddy Peralta: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.25; 2019 ERA: 5.29. Average home runs allowed: 8; 2019 home runs allowed: 15.

Jhoulys Chacin: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.20; 2019 ERA: 6.01. Average home runs allowed: 13; 2019 home runs allowed: 25.

Zach Davies: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.09; 2019 ERA: 3.55. Average home runs allowed: 13; 2019 home runs allowed: 20.

“I’ve seen a lot of homers that shouldn’t be homers. For those of you that doubt it, that don’t know it, look how small my signature needs to be,” he said. “Some of the skinniest fingers. If I want to throw a two-seam fastball, there’s no way I can get my two fingers in there and not touch the seams over there.” -Pedro Martinez

Cardinals

The Cardinals were the anomaly here, as their rotation is young. While the ERA wasn’t affected as much – if at all – look at the home run numbers.

Miles Mikolas: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.29; 2019 ERA: 4.16. Average home runs allowed: 21; 2019 home runs allowed: 27.

Jack Flaherty: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.84; 2019 ERA: 2.75. Average home runs allowed: 12; 2019 home runs allowed: 25.

Michael Wacha: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.80; 2019 ERA: 4.76. Average home runs allowed: 14; 2019 home runs allowed: 26.

“First it was juiced in the regular season when teams set all kinds of home run records. Then it was de-juiced in the postseason when it affected the outcomes of games and series. The changes made it difficult for teams and fans to anticipate how the ball would behave, but they may have also exposed a flaw in the stories we tell ourselves about the game.” -Zach Kram, The Ringer.com

Reds

Luis Castillo: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.71; 2019 ERA: 3.40. Average home runs allowed: 20; 2019 home runs allowed: 22.

Tanner Roark: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.81; 2019 ERA: 4.35. Average home runs allowed: 19; 2019 home runs allowed: 28.

Anthony DeSclafani: 2014-2018 average ERA: 4.63; 2019 ERA: 3.89. Average home runs allowed: 15; 2019 home runs allowed: 29.

“It started when the normally reliable Chris Sale got lit up for three homers by the Mariners in the Red Sox’s season opener. It was part of a record number of taters that flew on Opening Day, as starters from Sale to Zack Greinke were taken deep by the handful. Then Christian Yelich hit a home run in each of his first four games, tying yet another MLB record, this one for consecutive games with a dinger to start a season.” -Robert Arthur, Baseball Prospectus

Pirates

Jordan Lyles: 2014-2018 average ERA: 5.43; 2019 ERA: 4.15. Average home runs allowed: 11; 2019 home runs allowed: 25

Chris Archer: 2014-2018 average ERA: 3.79; 2019 ERA: 5.19. Average home runs allowed: 21; 2019 home runs allowed: 25.

Trevor Williams: 2014-2018 average ERA: 5.00; 2019 ERA: 5.38. Average home runs allowed: 11; 2019 home runs allowed: 27.

Looking across all of MLB, according to Baseball Almanac, there were a total of 6,776 home runs hit in 2019, 1,191 more than were hit in 2018 (an increase of 21.32%). While baseball has always seen spikes and drops in the number of home runs hit, this represents, by far, the most significant increase ever in the modern baseball era.

If what Manfred said about scientists “centering the pill” is accurate, we can expect to see another six months’ worth of home run derbies in 2020. Great for fans who love the long ball, not so much if you’re a pitcher vying for a Cy Young Award.

To be continued… maybe.

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