Phillies' Jake Arrieta: Sinker moving more than ever

Phillies' Jake Arrieta: Sinker moving more than ever

Arrieta‘s dominant start Thursday against the Pirates can be attributed to his sinker, which had more horizontal movement than ever before, Ben Harris of The Athletic Philadelphia reports.

Arrieta’s sinker broke 11.46 inches on average. His previous high was 9.78 inches. The pitch generated 11 whiffs, its second-most in any game of his career. The excellent sinker drove a vintage performance for Arrieta in which he struck out 10 and only allowed one hit. It was a reassuring outing coming on the heels of his previous start in which he struck out just one batter. Arrieta’s noisy delivery will naturally lead to some inconsistency, but on nights like Thursday when he has both his command and his electric stuff he can put up performances that rival the best starters in the game.

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Tigers 3, Royals 2, 10 innings

Tigers 3, Royals 2, 10 innings

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The Detroit Tigers’ JaCoby Jones hits a walk-off home run in the tenth inning, propelling the Tigers to a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday, April 20, 2018. It was Game 1 of a double-header. Robin Buckson, Detroit News

Orioles on deck: Pregame roster move, plus what to watch Friday vs. Indians, TV and more

Orioles on deck: Pregame roster move, plus what to watch Friday vs. Indians, TV and more

Orioles (5-14) vs. Indians (9-7)

Where: Camden Yards

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: MASN/105.7 The Fan

Starting pitchers: Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy (0-2, 1.40 ERA) vs. Indians RHP Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.25 ERA)

Orioles call up Scott, option Vielma

The Orioles called up left-handed reliever Tanner Scott from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned utility infielder Engelb Vielma to the Tides before Friday’s game.

Scott, 23, has made one appearance for the Orioles this season and has pitched six scoreless innings over four appearances with the Tides.

Vielma, 23, appeared in three games for the Orioles, starting one.

What to watch

1. Unlucky seven. The Orioles come home from their winless six-game road trip looking to avoid a seventh straight defeat. They have the second-longest active losing streak in the majors, behind the Kansas City Royals’ nine in a row.

2. Stopper Bundy. And they’re in luck because they’ll have their best starting pitcher so far this season on the mound with a chance to end that slide. Bundy has yet to win this season, but has allowed just four earned runs in 25 2/3 innings and lasted seven innings twice.

3. End of the tour. As of first pitch, the Orioles will now have faced all five American League playoff teams from a season ago with the season just 20 games old. After this weekend, the Orioles’ schedule finally softens a little, but only after playing a four-game wraparound series against an Indians club that made it to the 2016 World Series. The first starter the Orioles face is one they’ve had success against, as Trevor Bauer is 1-3 with a 5.86 ERA in five career games head to head. He’s had significant difficulty with Manny Machado, who’s 8-for-12 with two doubles, three homers and four RBIs against Bauer.

Orioles lineup

LF Trey Mancini

DH Pedro Álvarez

SS Manny Machado

CF Adam Jones

1B Chris Davis

3B Tim Beckham

RF Anthony Santander

C Chance Sisco

2B Luis Sardiñas

Indians lineup

SS Francisco Lindor

2B Jason Kipnis

3B José Ramírez

LF Michael Brantley

DH Edwin Encarnación

1B Yonder Alonso

C Roberto Pérez

RF Tyler Naquin

CF Bradley Zimmer

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Minors? Trade? The tough decisions for Matt Harvey, Mets

Minors? Trade? The tough decisions for Matt Harvey, Mets

Matt Harvey is fighting for his spot in the Mets’ rotation after three straight lackluster starts, as Jason Vargas nears a potential return from the disabled list.

The former Mets ace was roughed up for six runs in the first three innings against the Braves on Thursday before pitching three scoreless frames. Even so, Harvey sits with a 6.00 ERA as team brass evaluates various possibilities.

A look at the issues:

Q: What are the options for Harvey and the Mets?

A: At this point the Mets can move Harvey to the bullpen, find an injury and place him on the 10-day disabled list, demote the pitcher to Triple-A Las Vegas or look to trade or release him. The last option is to maintain the status quo and keep Harvey in the rotation.

Q: Do the Mets have final say on sending Harvey to the minors?

A: No. As a player with five years in the major leagues, Harvey must give his approval for a minor-league assignment.

Q: Would Harvey accept a minor-league assignment?

A: He has provided no indication that he would, but maybe if an agreement were reached — say Harvey is told he would make two starts in the minors and then return — the pitcher would at least consider the idea.

Q: Would Harvey embrace a bullpen role?

A: Based on his comments Thursday night, Harvey wants no part of the bullpen. He’s been a starting pitcher for his entire career and with free agency impending after the season likely doesn’t want to start dabbling in a new job description.

Q: Will the Mets just release Harvey?

A: The Mets tendered Harvey a contract last offseason with the idea he was a risk worth taking, with a potentially high ceiling. To release him in April, when he’s hitting 95 mph on the radar gun, would be a knee-jerk reaction.

Q: Could the Mets shift to a six-man rotation?

A: That’s always a possibility, but probably on a limited basis, correlating to the number of days off the Mets have in a given period of time. Team brass does not want to have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom potentially waiting six days between starts.

Q: Does Harvey have trade value?

A: The Mets would be selling low, and at this point would likely just be taking on somebody’s bad contract in return. And if Harvey rebounded with another team, the Mets wouldn’t look good.

Q: What is Harvey’s biggest problem?

A: The Mets largely are pleased with his stuff, but command is another story altogether. This is consistent with pitchers returning from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Why the drop in home runs in 2018? MLB had better hope it's the weather.

Why the drop in home runs in 2018? MLB had better hope it's the weather.

Within the existential crisis confronting Major League Baseball over the way the modern game is played, there was always one saving grace. If the games were going to feature more pitches, more strikeouts, more walks, more pitching changes, and more all-or-nothing swings but fewer balls in play than at any time in the game’s history – all of that could be tolerated, from a fan-experience perspective, as long as there were also tons of home runs.

You could take away bits of action from the margins of the game, as long as the ultimate action – the ball flying over the fence at ever-increasing rates – was the payoff. And for the past few years, that has been the case. It doesn’t mean this version of baseball was better than the old one, but it means, even for fans who might otherwise be turned off, it was tolerable.

“I actually really like the game,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said last year. “But it’s not what I like – the issue is what do the fans want to see. [And] our research suggests the home run is actually a popular play in baseball.”

But what if all the other time- and action-sucking trends held true, but home runs started to decline? That’s where baseball is in April 2018. And just as with a slumping slugger or a struggling pitcher, while it may be too early to panic, it isn’t too early to worry and wonder whether there’s a problem.

Through the first 3 1/2 weeks of the season, strikeout and walk rates have increased over March/April 2017 – with strikeouts accounting for 21.6 percent of all plate appearances last year and 23.0 percent this year (through Thursday), and walks increasing from 8.7 percent to 9.2. That puts the game on a pace to set a record for strikeouts for a 12th straight year and produce an 18-year high for walks. No surprises there.

But the home run rate, which has been on a precipitous climb since the middle of 2015, is down, from 3.1 percent of all plate appearances in March/April 2017 to 2.8 percent in 2018. Three-tenths of a percentage point drop may not seem like much, but over a full season, that comes out to nearly 600 fewer homers than last year’s all-time-high total of 6,105.

This was not an expected outcome in 2018, especially after home run rates were up again across the sport this year in spring training. In the regular season, batters are still hitting fly balls at the same rate as a year ago – 35.6 percent of all batted balls – but the percentage of those fly balls turning into home runs has dropped by a full point, from 12.8 percent to 11.8.

There are, of course, extenuating circumstances, namely the unusually inclement weather across the eastern half of the country this month, which has led to a near-record total of postponements and may have also contributed to the lower home run rates. Fly balls typically leave the park more frequently as the weather heats up.

But various scientific and journalistic studies last year – as well as the anecdotal evidence provided by Justin Verlander and others – found that changes to the composition of the baseball itself were responsible, at least in part, for the surge in home runs. And given this season’s drop, speculation has already begun that another change to the ball has swung the pendulum back in the other direction.

This season, MLB mandated that all teams store their baseballs in air-conditioned rooms, while the Arizona Diamondbacks for the first time are using a humidor at Chase Field to store theirs. Both measures were intended to standardize the baseballs’ “coefficient of restitution” – or, their liveliness. The Diamondbacks’ humidor has served its purpose, as the home run rate at Chase Field has dropped acutely, from 3.5 percent of all plate appearances in 2017 to 2.7 so far this season. Perhaps the air-conditioned storage across the game is having a similar, if smaller, effect.

Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois and a leading expert on the physics of baseball, is among those who caution against jumping to any conclusions, about either home run rates or the composition of the baseball, at this early date.

This year’s decline in homers “might be due to the unusually cold weather,” Nathan in an email. He added, “I am generally skeptical of claims that the ball has changed, whether ‘juiced’ or ‘unjuiced.’”

Today’s version of baseball is different than any version that came before: increasingly, an all-or-nothing proposition in which, in 2017, more than a third of plate appearances (33.5 percent) resulted in either a walk, a strikeout or a homer. That’s the highest rate of “three true outcomes” and the lowest rate of balls in play in history.

We all seem to have decided we can sacrifice a certain number of dazzling defensive plays for the sheer spectacle of a lineup full of 20-homer hitters. (In 2017, in fact, 89 of the 144 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title hit at least 20 homers, the highest percentage in history.) We have learned to embrace the 200-strikeout slugger, as long he also produces 50-plus home runs, as Aaron Judge did last year.

The problem for the sport comes when the recipe for all-or-nothing baseball becomes too heavy on the nothing, and too light on the all.