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ScienceBall: How Major League Baseball Took Steroids

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As Bill Nye’s theme song told us: Science rules and inertia is a property of matter. So why don’t we get a little scientific?

There have been whispers of conspiracy surrounding Major League Baseball and the inordinate increase in home runs, in recent years. We all know that the MLB conducts thorough and scrupulous drug tests; PED’s are presumed to be out of the question. So what could have caused this increase in dingers?

The term “juicing the ball” has been thrown around loosely, almost in a satirical manner. This has come from the media. The MLB has made no formal, nor vociferous, statement concerning any deliberate tampering with their baseballs. But the truth is out there…

These allegations, surrounding the home run spike, come on the coattails of a numbers problem for the MLB: The TV ratings are bad. We the old-heads may still be watching, but the hip-youth are turning elsewhere for their sports entertainment. Preseason football killed Red Sox games, and it almost invariably beat local MLB broadcasts around the country. Wouldn’t it make sense for commissioner Rob Manfred and baseball brass to look for a way to stimulate TV ratings with the younger demographics? And what does everybody appreciate and find entertaining: Power.

Here’s where I have to admit that I have a tinge of a conspiracy theorist in me: I do. But, this “juiced-ball” ball phenomena is redolent of the steroid era. That’s alarming. Hitters are inexplicably hitting more home runs. Yeah, yeah I get the “whole evolution of the athlete theory”. This spike is too extreme to be attributed to improved mechanics and players being more educated. It just doesn’t make sense. Especially when juxtaposed with the not so far-gone PED age of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Moneyball

At this point in the 2017 MLB season, home runs per game (HRPG) are higher than they have been ever before. That’s right, even when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were swinging it, they weren’t swinging it like this. HRPG has rapidly shot up since the 2015 season. If you look at 2-year intervals, the increase that we’re appreciating, since just 2 years ago, is much greater than any difference we’ve ever seen in such a span.

Let’s go back to 1998. Steroids are just starting to circulate through clubhouses. Ah, what a time to be alive! My dad always says “go look at Barry Bonds’ rookie card, then look at him in the late 90’s.” To say the dude put on some weight would be a massive understatement. He looked like he ate himself. But by the numbers, the HRPG for the 1998 MLB season was 1.04. By the 2000 season, in 2 years, it was jacked up to 1.17. Steroids are a helluva drug. That’s a 13% increase in home runs. After public outcry and the commencement of a witch-hunt, HRPG precipitously dropped back to 1.04 by 2002. Now, stay with me here.

In the 2015 season, the average for home runs per game was a normal 1.01. Fast-forward to now, with the 2017 regular season schedule all but completed, the HRPG is at 1.27. Much like the steroid era disparity, in 2 years the average has increased by 26%. That is twice as severe of an increase than the one we saw back when the players were juicing. So, clearly, someone, or something, has to be juiced here.

Scienceball

I brought this topic up casually to a nerdy know-it-all friend of mine, and he made an interesting suggestion. Very placidly and definitively he said, “they’re dehydrating the baseballs”. Of course, this sounded stupid, at first. I’ve had dehydrated fruit, and it’s pretty good, but why would anyone want dehydrated baseballs? He explained that, by dehydrating the baseballs, one could manipulate what is scientifically referred to as the “coefficient of reciprocity” or COR.

In laymen’s terms: It would make the ball “bounce” more violently. Every object on Earth harbors a certain amount of moisture. A water-logged ball does not bounce as well as a dry ball. The more dehydrated a baseball becomes, the greater it will bounce. Remember Sammy Sosa’s corked bat? Little did he know that he was influencing the COR of baseballs, only with a different piece of equipment. You’ll hear announcers say when the air is dry and hot, that the ball will “fly” during the game. That’s when the ball is naturally dehydrated.

Another piece of information, that expounds on this hypothesis, is the so-called “blister epidemic” in the MLB. This year, venerated pitchers such as Jake Arrieta, Rich Hill, and many others have complained of the mysterious formation of blisters on their fingers. These guys are not rookies. They’re forming blisters, years and years into their respective careers, in ways they’ve never formed them before. Hypothetically if the ball was dehydrated, it would have a more coarse and abrasive texture. The ball would have a surface that could easily induce blistering, after re-gripping and throwing it 100+ times per game.

Think about it: You would see no superficial change in the baseball’s appearance if it was dehydrated. MLB “ball-handlers” (for lack of a better term) would simply toss the baseballs into a baseball oven, before each game. Sadly there’s really no way to corroborate this theory unless you’re employed by the MLB and you can testify to doing this. If so please speak up. That would be cool.

In Reality

Again, this is all unconfirmed and is an unresearched conspiracy theory. The unfortunate thing about “eras” is that fans (and sometimes even players) don’t know when they are in one. We watch for the love of the game, and sometimes it’s best not to know how the sausage is made.

For now, we can say that it has been an exciting and action-packed season. Giancarlo Stanton is on track to be the first player to hit 60 home runs, since 2001. And it’s been fun to watch him as he attempts to accomplish this feat. But we can’t ignore suspicions. The spike in home runs, that we are appreciating this year, is not unprecedented. It is just much greater than its predecessor.

Columnist operating out of Manchester, NH. Retired pitcher (unprofessional not amateur). Voracious consumer of all things Celtics and Red Sox. Sometimes I produce content as well.

MLB

Shohei Ohtani Picks Angels, Already Headed Towards Disaster

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Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani is taking his talents to the lovely city of Anaheim. Ohtani is being heralded as this generations Babe Ruth with the ability to both pitch lights out and hit the long ball. Ohtani made the decision like many top Japanese stars have done in the past and take his talents to Major League Baseball.

Many teams competed for his services but the center of attention wanted to go to a small market with no real expectations of winning. What he ended up choosing is a fairly large market but with no real expectations of winning anything anytime soon.

It will be interesting to see how the Angels use Ohtani. One common line of thinking has been that an American League team would use Ohtani as a designated hitter on days he doesn’t pitch. The Angels already have Albert Pujols, who is essentially a full-time DH. But despite being called a slugger he only managed a .672 OPS last season so who knows if he can even hit at a major league level.

With many of these Japanese stars, you really have no idea how they will perform till they get over here and actually play. All signs are pointing towards a failure of epic proportions though with there being a slim chance he pans out as a hitter.

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MLB

How the NBA has Posterized the Modern Age

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Nobody watches sports on TV anymore, right? The instant gratification, that technology offers us, overpowers our interest to consume sporting events in their entirety.

It’s like choosing a home-cooked meal over astronaut food – consuming highlights on Twitter is SO much more efficient than watching the whole game.

Analysts have deduced, from declining NFL TV Ratings, that the audience for sports is dwindling. Excuses manifold have been made in an attempt to explain this seemingly inexplicable phenomenon.

You hear things like social media, those darn video games and even Reefer Madness. Others point to rule changes and a degrading “on the field” product. Some have even conjectured that recent political controversies have dissuaded a large portion of the NFL audience from watching telecasts of the game.

There are no days like the good ol’ days!

But the NFL is not the only sports league to be afflicted with declining ratings.

In fact, America’s favorite pastime, baseball, has all but lost the viewership of the younger demographics. This is the part of the population that will buy merchandise. They actually care about who’s “in”.

The average MLB fan is now 100 years old.

I joke, but this is not a huge exaggeration. The average MLB fan is now 53 years old, while the NFL’s average fan is not much younger – at 47 years old.

Two of the major sports leagues have hopelessly seen their popularity diminish, over the past few decades. So one would presume that this trend has spread across the rest of the Sports World. But the NBA has actually prospered during this window of media volatility.

The NBA’s season-opener has increased, in Nielsen TV Ratings, by about 63% since 2015. And the average basketball fan is only 37 years old. 

Somehow basketball has managed to appeal to the younger audience that is umbilically attached to electronic distractions. Yes, the very same distractions that have syphoned away the attention of these fans from the other sports leagues.

This must suggest that the NBA is communing with some wizard who is giving Adam Silver and his subordinates total clairvoyance, right? Well, the NFL and the MLB should stop searching for their Magic 8-Ball. It’s not out there.   

The NBA’s continued success is easy to explain: It is the league of Pop Culture. Therefore the NBA is both the cure and the symptom. And it is the only institution that is impervious to the ever-changing winds of digital time.

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Boston Red Sox

Minimum Expectations for the 2018 Red Sox

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Last year, it was Chris Sale; in 2016, the exorbitantly expensive David Price was all the hype. Both of these roundly heralded saviors produced the same underwhelming results. Another short-winded trip to the playoffs; another bummer of a year.

The Red Sox simply cannot afford a third consecutive first-round exit, in the 2018 postseason. And it seems that Dave Dombrowski knows this. In an attempt to prevent car-flipping anarchy in the streets, he fired the overseer of all this recent failure (his direct subordinate) – John Farrell.

Now the Sox will be heading into next season with a newfangled remedy. No, it’s not a hundred-million dollar player. This time around, management has received the upgrade. It’s the newly hired manager, Alex Cora, who will be charged with the burden of resurrecting one of the most venerated franchises in professional sports.

On Monday, Cora was formally introduced to Boston as the new manager (or scapegoat).

Good luck, buddy! You’re gonna need it.  

Should Boston fans really expect an appreciable change to be affected by just one man? After all, this is exactly what we’ve done, to no avail, for the past few years. And if Cora really represents the end-all-be-all solution, what is a realistic accomplishment for him, and his club, in the first season of his tenure?

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