Meet the new ball, same as the old ball

Welcome to Notes on Baseball, a Sunday rundown of last week’s interesting baseball writing and surprising outcomes.

Let me know what you think of the Sunday format vs. the daily version I wrote for a couple of weeks. Still tinkering.

We’re done here: The Royals caused some head-scratching when they signed Salvador Perez to big contract in the off-season.

On Tuesday night Perez executed a walk-off pick-off with the bases loaded and the Angels down by one:

Salvy’s also hitting well, and reached 1,000 career hits this week.

2nd in 50: The Cubs pounded the Braves 13-4 last night. But at midweek, the Cubs had the second lowest team batting average through 12 games in 50 years, hitting a brisk .169. Only the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119 games, were worse though the first 12 games.

Evolving experience: ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, on how baseball is welcoming fans back with new rules and an experience that is both familiar and new:

They all returned to a new reality. Where tickets are digital and transactions are cashless. Where directional signage, hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass dividers are prevalent. Where food is pre-wrapped, condiments are provided in single-use packets and menus are accessed through QR codes. 

Operating plans evolve in real time. Mobile concession ordering caused long lines at several parks and was scrapped. Teams are adjusting on the fly:

"We have a running joke around here of 'hashtag-nimble,'" Mariners senior vice president of ballpark events and operations Trevor Gooby said. "We think everything looks great on paper, and then you actually have it happen and you need to tweak some things."

Baseball is leading the way in this return to normalcy—whatever that means these days—and it’s good to see teams being both thoughtful and willing to adjust quickly to balance safety and a fun experience.

Graig Kreidler is a historical artist. An artistic historian? The former betrays the depth of his understanding of baseball history. The latter doesn’t do his talent justice. Through his painting, Kreidler brings baseball’s greatest moments and players to life:

I highly recommend following him on Twitter and Instagram.

I love reading about baseball’s history. But Kreidler brings the game’s past to life in a whole different way.

Small sample size: There’s an old and utterly ridiculous idiom that, after ten games, we can expect the current standings to reflect the final standings.

Of course that’s false. But … are there some things we can infer?

Yes! Let’s engage in some wild and statistically irresponsible speculation as teams passed the ten-game mark.

  • The Angels aren't going anywhere. Their pitching may be an issue all season. But the middle of their lineup is going to keep them in games all year and locked in a battle with the Astros for the NL West crown.

  • The AL East will be a bloodbath all year. We read about the prowess of the NL East all offseason. But with the Orioles showing signs of life, and Boston playing well early, every team in the division has reason to hope and talent to deploy.

  • The Phillies can hang with the Braves and Mets. Philadelphia was a sleeper team for many, and, as long as they manage to touch home plate, they seem poised to go toe-to-toe with the more heralded Braves and Mets.

  • The Reds can compete in a muddled NL Central. Cincinnati sat atop the division at 7-3 and plays with brashness and swagger. St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago are all flawed and unlikely to run away with anything. The Reds can make a playoff push again this year.

Everything old is new again: The Braves’ retro uniforms don’t feel retro to me at all. Instead, they remind of modern European soccer jerseys, for some reason—and they should absolutely wear them as often as possible.

Sequentially satisfying: Pitcher wins don’t really matter anymore, but this is still wild:

Firing blanks: Yankee pitchers keep pelting Rays hitters:

Some justifying stats:

  • Since 2018, the Yankees have hit 24 Rays with pitches. The Rays have hit 16 Yankees.

  • Against every other team, the Yankees hit a batter 1 out of every 3.2 games. 

  • Yet 7 Tampa Bay players have been hit in their past 6 games against the Yankees.

It’s not adding up to Yankee wins, though. As of Saturday morning, the Rays have won 14 of 18 from the Yankees, including knocking them out of the ALDS last fall.

Pitt of despair:

Meet the new ball, same as the old ball: Eno Sarris dives deep on how the new baseball has impacted the game so far. While some things are up (barrel rates, strikeouts, and exit velocity), and some things are down (overall offense, average fly ball distance), the net effect is … neutral?

Maybe the weirdest thing about this is how the overall home run rate will end up almost exactly where it was last year. Using the same April-to-full-season adjustment that we saw from 2015-2019, the full-season home run per nine inning rate this year could end up at 1.33 per nine innings. It was 1.34 last year. All the arrows going in different directions may have pushed us to about the same place as we were last year.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Speed rounds: There was lots of buzz about Ronald Acuna, Jr. blazing down the line to beat out a routine grounder this week:


Then the slightly-less-speedy Willians Astudillo said, “Hold my beer, Ronald.”

Later in the week, Willians, took the mound against the Angels, completing a 1-2-3 9th inning. Speed was again on display: two of Astudillo pitches were clocked at 46 and 52 MPH. Seriously.

Rallying cry: Various military units throughout history: “LEAVE NO MAN BEHIND!”

The Tampa Bay Rays: “Eh, let’s leave as many men behind as humanly possible.”

Three for eight: Pablo Sandoval hit his third home run in eight pinch-hitting at bats:

Thanks for reading! See you next Sunday.