Last week’s headlines were dominated by the Los Angeles Angels releasing Albert Pujols, the future Hall of Famer, after a decline in playing time and some questions about his ability to contribute over the final year of his contract.
This was not how anyone thought Pujols’ last season would end, but there are a few teams that might find a need for the slugging first baseman.
The Yankees started badly but, as per usual, they are already sniffing about the top of the American League East after winning seven of their last ten games, although they still trail leaders Boston Red Sox by 3.5 games.
On the Red Sox schedule are the Oakland A's, who opened the season with seven losses in eight games before putting together a 13-game win streak. The A's are playing better baseball away from home, so will be excited about the Fenway Park series.
In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox have managed to combine on both sides of the ball to create the best run differential in baseball and sneak ahead of Cleveland.
In the National League East, the Mets still have a negative run differential, but a seven and three win-loss split over the last ten games puts them on top of the division. In the NL Central, the St Louis Cardinals managed 13 wins over the previous 17 days to set up a nice midweek series against the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
Out West, the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants have seized on the apparent demise of the LA Dodgers. The Padres and Giants haven’t been particularly efficient themselves, but with the Dodgers losing eight of their last ten games, the division, for now at least, is wide open.
The most surprising fact from last week was the season’s fourth no-hitter, delivered on this occasion by Cincinnati Reds left-hander Wade Miley. A no-hitter is where a pitcher, or collection of pitchers, complete the game without allowing the opposition to record a single hit. This feat is considered one of the best achievements for a pitcher outside of a perfect game, where no runner reaches base.
Looking back at the last full season in 2019, there were four no-hitters all year; at this rate, the league is on track to have 21 no-hitters this season. Now, that’s a long way off and as the air warms, the ball jumps off the bat just that little bit more, but the season record is eight (1884), although the modern era record is seven which occurred on three occasions (1990, 1991, 2012).
Across the board, pitchers are having a great season as the current league batting average is on track to be the lowest ever. It is currently .234. The lowest ever was .237 in 1968. After that season, widely considered ‘The first year of the pitcher’ (the second came in 2010), Major League Baseball instituted changes to the height of the mound, and the strike zone was returned to its previous size.
So what has changed this year to take what was a relatively stable statistic from the last ten years and cause it to drop nearly 20 points since 2019?
The answer seems to be the ball.
The single most important piece of equipment in the whole game goes through review and adjustment each year.
According to MLB, during the past offseason the ball has been reduced in weight by less than one-tenth of an ounce and the first winding of the ball has been loosened, effectively making the ball less bouncy.
The second change noted by pitchers around the league is the thicker seams on the ball. They allow the pitcher to get a firmer grip, increasing his ability to create spin, which means more movement on the ball.
But this won’t be a new ‘Era of the Pitcher’ because, as with every season, the league is already trialing ways to increase the ball in play moments. In the Atlantic League, they have moved the mound back 12 inches to give the batter a better chance to hit and, of course, the ball will also be tweaked before next season’s opening day.