Is the ball ‘juiced’ again? Verlander thinks so

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Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Following the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, attendance was down. The “juiced ball” and steroid era began. Steroids have been around way before this but the drop in attendance and TV ratings due to the strike put the game in a desperate situation.

Testing for performance enhancers became a bit lax. The number of home runs skyrocketed. This wasn’t just because of the increase of steroid use. The ball itself became more “hitter friendly.”

While many of us feel this MLB campaign is one of the most exciting in years, it doesn’t change the fact that attendance is still down for the second straight year and has been in decline for five years’ running. Heck, even this past All-Star Game received their lowest TV ratings in the history of the mid-season contest.

Some say the lack of interest may be because five of the six divisions look to be set. Others say that the price of tickets, parking, and ballpark visits overall have risen so high that families just can’t afford to go anymore.

Hence we are back to the juiced ball issue. The amount of home runs this season is on a record pace. There is an average of nearly three HR’s hit per game this season, on pace the not just break the record, but shatter it. Below is a list of home runs per year over the last six seasons:

2013 — 4,661 HR’s

2014 — 4,186 HR’s

2015 — 4,909 HR’s

2016 — 5,610 HR’s

2017 — 6,105 HR’s

2018 — 5,585 HR’s

So if you notice, when attendance began declining, the number of round-trippers began to increase.

Now let me play devil’s advocate here for a moment. Pitchers today throw harder than ever. When a batter makes contact, the ball travels further. We do seem to see more strikeouts as well. No doubt about that.

Lastly, batters aren’t hitting for average anymore. They don’t work the count as they once did. They either swing for the bleachers or take the K. Gone are the days of players like Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn. They were true students of the game that studied and knew pitchers, but also changed their stance and raised or lowered their grip on the bat at the plate, to place a baseball. They weren’t just looking for a hit, they were trying to place a ball in a specific area or gap.

Players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. Overall, they are in better shape. They now have personal trainers, conditioning instructors, hitting instructors, nutritionists, etc. There is a more scientific way to study pitchers’ tendencies and next generation video and computer footage of just how to do so.

Going back to the current juiced ball issue, Justin Verlander came out publicly an stated that something is definitely changed about the ball. In his 15th season, the 2011 Cy Young winner, with a career 215-127 record, stated that the ball just feels different.

Say what you want about this, but keep in mind, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, Ted Williams. once received a new batch of his bats and after just a few swings felt something was off. It turned out this particular set of bats were less than an 1/16th of an ounce off his usual weight. So when an acclaimed guy like Verlander says he feels something is different about the way the ball feels, I believe it.

We all like home runs but when you see guys that normally aren’t long ball hitters, launching them out of the park, you must take notice.

Whatever the case, I am going to continue to keep watching, keep attending, and keep betting my favorite sport. 

Here are this week’s best bets (all records, stats, and trends are as of print and may change as can starting pitchers):

Wednesday

Rays at Yankees: The New York Yankees, despite season-long injury issues, are the most feared team in the AL. On a squad filled with talent, it seems that a different player steps up on any given day.

Just putting on the pinstripes, any players head would swell, but this team has very little ego and possess no prima donnas.

The first-place Yankees have taken nine of the 13 meetings against their AL East rivals this season. Team wins leader Domingo German gets the home start. He has an 11-2 record with an ERA of 3.40 on the campaign, including a win in his only start against the Rays this season.

Yonny Chirinos takes the hill on the road. The right-hander has faced the Yankees four times in 2019 with a record of 1-1, yielding eight earned runs in 23 innings. The sophomore pitcher owns a respectable, 8-4 record with an ERA of 3.11. 

However “Yonito” has just 89 K’s in 107.1 IP. He is not a power pitcher nor does he have an array of weapons in his arsenal. A pitcher must have both when facing the dangerous lineup of the Bronx Bombers.

These are two solid teams with good starting pitchers so I expect the line to float around -150, like the earlier meeting when German went up against lesser pitcher Tyler Glasnow. YANKEES

Blue Jays at Red Sox: Thank goodness the Raptors won the NBA championship. Otherwise, the city of Toronto would be in a depression. At least until the Argonauts hit the field.

The Blue Jays started the week 25.5 games in back of the Yankees in the AL East at 35-59, including one of the worst road records in all of baseball at 17-29. Their offense, or lack thereof, ranks 27th in scoring (4.22 RPG) and 30th in Team BA (.231). Toronto sends Aaron Sanchez to the hill here. The righty, who is 8-22 the last three campaigns, has a record of 3-13 with a 6.22 ERA. 

With a lineup ranking third in scoring (5.62 RPG) and first in Team BA (.271), they are going to light up Sanchez like it’s the Fourth of July. By the way, Sanchez has lost nine consecutive starts.

The Red Sox give Eduardo Rodriguez the home start. The lefty has a 10-4 record with an ERA of 4.43, striking out 116 batters in 109.2 IP. The team wins leader took a loss in his only start vs. Toronto back on May 21st.

The Blue Jays are 4-12 the last 16 games played at the Red Sox and 1-5 the last six games played on the road. RED SOX RUN LINE 

Thursday

Dodgers at Phillies: There is no debating just how good the Dodgers are. But even Superman had kryptonite.

L.A. swept Philly back at the end of May at Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles’ weakness is playing at Citizens Bank Park, where they were 2-6 their last eight visits going into Monday’s contest. 

The Phillies are scratching and clawing with the Braves and Nationals for NL East supremacy. They are currently 8.5 GB, but play eight of their next 13 contests at home, where they are 28-19, and account for over 5.04 RPG.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff are one of the best in the Majors. However, Ross Stripling is no world beater. After a brief stint as a starter, the right-hander was then put in the bullpen for nearly two months. 

Team ERA leader Aaron Nola gets the nod here for Philadelphia. He’s 8-2 with an ERA of 3.63, fanning 133 batters in 116.2 IP. Just over the last two seasons, “Nols” has been money, earning a 25-8 record with a 3.00 ERA.

I’m going out on a limb here because I really do feel L.A. is the best team in the NL. However, on the road with this pitching matchup, it will be the Dodgers’ kryptonite. PHILLIES

Last week: 1-0

Season: 20-17

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