According to an Associated Press story, on the day Rob Manfred became the commissioner of baseball he had this to say:
“I’m cognizant in the drop in offense over the last five years, and it’s become a topic of conversation in the game, and it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to monitor and study.”
If Manfred wanted more offense and Game 5 of the 2017 World Series is any indication, he got what he wanted. On Sunday night the Astros beat the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings. The 25 runs were scored on 11 walks and 28 hits, including eight doubles, one triple and seven home runs.
The game also took five hours and 17 minutes to play.
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According to a tweet he posted Monday morning, Eric Hosmer was just one of the baseball fans who couldn’t stay awake long enough to watch the whole thing. And if you can’t get Eric Hosmer to watch an entire World Series game, you might have a problem.
Are the baseballs different?
According to the same Associated Press story, there’s a study claiming that there have been differences in the size and seam height of balls since the 2015 All-Star break.
If the seams on a baseball aren’t as high, sliders and curves will have less break and if sliders and curves aren’t moving as much, pitchers might resort to throwing more fastballs.
And all that is good for hitters.
Some of this year’s World Series pitchers believe something is going on with the baseballs, including Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel; other pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw, Brandon Morrow and Rich Hill, downplayed the issue.
Manfred recently said: “I’m absolutely confident that the balls that we’re using are within our established specifications.” But since Manfred became commissioner in 2015, the average number of runs scored and home runs hit are up and not by a smidgen. In 2014 big-league teams averaged 659 runs scored and 140 home runs hit; in 2017 big-league teams averaged 753 runs scored and 204 home runs hit.
If you like offense that’s great, but the downside of all that offense is longer games.
Fix one problem, cause another
Baseball is aware that they have a problem with the length of games and that’s why it no longer takes four pitches to issue an intentional walk. Baseball has also done what it can to limit mound visits and the time between pitches.
But the problem didn’t start with the increased number of runs and home runs since 2014.
Before that, the guys who study the game through numbers made a compelling case that walks were undervalued and teams started to listen. But if teams take pitches and work walks, games are going to get longer. And unless watching a hitter jog down to first base after seeing nine pitches floats your boat, more boring.
And if a manager follows match-up numbers and is constantly changing pitchers, the crowd spends a lot of time watching those pitchers warm up. In Game 5 the Dodgers and Astros used 14 pitchers and six of them threw fewer than one inning; that’s a lot of time spent on warmup pitches.
Whether or not you believe baseball did something to alter the baseballs and increase scoring, somehow, someway the not-enough-offense problem got solved, but now baseball has a new problem:
The games are too long.
And if you don’t believe me just ask Eric Hosmer.