Ballparks just don’t contain baseballs the way they used to. If you’ve watched any baseball at all this year, you’ve probably noticed that home runs are way up. League-wide, dingers have increased from 1.16 HR/9 in 2018 to 1.35 this season. There are three possible factors that could cause the offensive explosion:
- The ballparks shrunk.
- The players suddenly and dramatically changed.
- The baseballs are different.
The first two have certainly not happened, which leaves option three. A few weeks ago, Baseball Prospectus’ Rob Arthur pointed out that the balls are less air resistant, causing them to travel further.
This has ramifications beyond the majors, as MLB has decreed that the Triple-A leagues need to use the same ball, too. Arthur describes how this effects those leagues in his very sciency, smart-like article, unlike the idiotic drivel I have inflicted upon you. You should read his work.
In theory, it makes sense that minor leaguers and major leaguers should use the same fundamental equipment. However, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League was already notoriously offense-skewed. MLB is giving its 20-pound cat an extra bag of treats per day.
Switching baseballs has impacted the Pacific Coast and International Leagues much more significantly than the majors thus far.
Whereas MLB has returned to the peak levels of 2017, both Triple-A leagues are averaging more than a full run per game more than their previous highs. The IL has become more offense-friendly than MLB for the first time in recent history. The PCL is approaching beer league softball territory.
This is even more ridiculous given that the PCL had reason to expect a slight decrease in scoring this year. The Colorado Springs Sky Sox, home of perhaps the most homer-friendly environment in all of affiliated baseball, has been demoted to the low minors. The Brewers’ new Triple-A affiliate is the San Antonio Missions, who actually have the lowest RA9 in the PCL (4.53). Much of the credit goes to the pitching and defense, of course, but this would have been nearly impossible in Colorado Springs.
Even with the PCL’s biggest offensive outlier swapped out for a more reasonable ballpark, offense is still north of 11 runs per game. This leads to some pretty crazy stats, at which we will now marvel.
No one is suffering from the more streamlined baseball worse than the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate.
- 8.95 RA9- The pitching staff on the whole has allowed 165 runs in 166 innings. Read that sentence again, please. They’re averaging a full run per inning! Imagine your favorite team employed a pitcher who surrendered a run for every inning he pitched. You would demand his release or demotion, and you probably wouldn’t have to wait that long. Ivan Nova has allowed 24 runs in 25 2⁄3 innings, and he’s probably the worst qualified pitcher in MLB thus far. What do you do if the entire team is worse than Ivan Nova?
- 20.25 ERA- We have learned to gloss over grotesquery. My favorite player growing up was Nolan Ryan. (Shut up; I’m not old.) In 1966, his first season, he had a 15.00 ERA— the result of five runs in three innings. It’s a product of a micro sample that we’ve learned to ignore. However, Tyler Danish’s 20.25 ERA is not from a micro sample. He’s started four games and thrown 13 1⁄3 innings, yielding 34 runs (30 earned). His NSFW game log speaks for itself.
- 2.1, 1.892, and 9.8- Here are some more repulsive team stats. 2.1 is the HR/9. They’ve surrendered 38 bombs in 19 games. Danish is responsible for eight of them. As you might have surmised, 1.892 is the team WHIP. They have 11 pitchers who have thrown at least seven innings, and six of them have allowed at least two baserunners per inning. 9.8 is the K/9. This isn’t bad, which means things are worse than we thought. The pitching staff is still generating plenty of strikeouts; therefore a crazy number of balls in play are landing safely on the grass or in the seats.
- 3.93 ERA- This belongs to Justus Sheffield, the Mariners’ top prospect, through four games (three starts). It’s quite good actually. That’s a problem for Tacoma because he was just promoted to Seattle. What happens to a pitching staff this putrid when they lose their best pitcher? I’m afraid we’ll soon find out.
El Paso Chihuahuas
On the other side of the coin, the San Diego Padres’ affiliate is raking.
- .941 OPS- The team is slashing .313/.385/.555. This even includes their pitchers, who are batting .250! For context, José Ramírez hit .270/.387/.552 last year and finished third in the AL MVP voting. The Chihuahuas are sending 2018 José Ramírez to the plate for every plate appearance.
- 230 wRC+- Before signing Manny Machado, the Padres caught some heat from baseball folks (OK, mostly me) for having Ty France listed atop their third base depth chart. Is that even a real person? It’s sounds like a pseudonym for Christian Villanueva or Ken Caminiti. Well, he’s real and he’s spectacular. He leads the PCL with a 230 wRC+, .555 wOBA, and 1.385 OPS.
- 40 HR- As a team, El Paso has amassed 40 home runs through 19 games and 799 plate appearances. That’s a bomb every 19.98 plate appearances. For his career, Reggie Jackson averaged a dinger every 20.28 plate appearances. Unadjusted for league and era, the Chihuahuas are more powerful than Reggie.
Tacoma and El Paso are the most entertaining outliers of the 2019 PCL so far, but the entire league is simply berserk. Four of the 16 teams allow more than six runs per nine innings. The league average OPS is .810. With no sign of the offense slowing down, we could see some mammoth numbers by season’s end.
In case you were wondering, yes, Ty France did homer off Tyler Danish on April 16 in El Paso.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983