To begin, I want you to take a look at this screenshot from Saturday’s game between the Mets and Marlins at Citi Field. What do you think happened? What might have been the outcome?
First things first: That’s Jacob deGrom on the mound. He’s the best pitcher on Earth, as well as other inhabited worlds we have yet to discover. And as expected, he’s been mowing down the Marlins. In the first inning, he dismantled Corey Dickerson on four fastballs that went 99.9, 99.8, 100.4, and 100.1 mph. Next, he struck out Starling Marte with two fastballs, both above 99 mph, and a wicked slider. Could Jesús Aguilar, the next batter, save face for his team? Nope; unable to keep up with deGrom’s heater, Aguilar popped out to Pete Alonso in foul territory.
After deGrom retired two more Marlins — both on strikeouts — we’re back to the moment in the screenshot. In the batter’s box is Jazz Chisholm, one of Miami’s many promising young players. Today, in addition to manning second base, he’s tasked with facing a pitcher who has been dominant thus far. It won’t be easy.
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I guess it wouldn’t be baseball in these trying times without a debate about the state of the ball. This year’s rendition started in February when Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that they obtained an internal memo Major League Baseball had sent outlining changes to the baseball that would “reduce offense slightly in the 2021 season.” Specifically, Rawlings loosened the tension of the ball’s first wool winding, reducing the weight and bounciness of the ball as measured by COR, or the coefficient of restitution.
How would the new ball affect the league’s offensive environment? At that point, we could only speculate. Included in Sarris and Rosenthal’s article is a cautionary tale from the Korean Baseball Organization, which experienced a crash in league-wide offense after minor reductions to the ball’s COR. But the article also cited Dr. Meredith Willis, who believed that because MLB intended to reduce the ball’s COR along with its weight – the KBO actually increased the weight of its ball by one gram – the effects would be less severe. As for MLB, its memo included an independent lab that found minor decreases in fly ball distance with the new ball.
Then came spring training, and along with it the first uses of the new baseball. As March closed out, Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh published an article for The Ringer entitled “The New Baseball Still Seems Juiced.” Using data from spring training games, they made two key observations: (1) home run per contact rate had increased, not decreased, from last spring, and (2) the new ball seemed to have a high drag coefficient. “Higher drag should translate to less carry and fewer home runs,” Arthur and Lindbergh wrote. “Yet the higher-drag balls also have a higher home run rate on contact, because they have a substantially higher exit speed.” If the ball’s COR was really reduced, they added, the opposite phenomenon should occur. Read the rest of this entry »
This is Justin’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Justin has always been a baseball fan and a writer, but it wasn’t until Hyun Jin Ryu began dominating in 2019 that he started to fuse those interests together. He’s written for a few places since then, including Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest, and is now hoping to pester the good people of FanGraphs with his deep-dives into niche topics. Outside of the baseball blogosphere, he’s a student at Washington University in St. Louis.
Jack Leiter has been outstanding. So far this college baseball season, the sophomore from Vanderbilt University is sporting a minuscule 0.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched. He’s struck out 59 batters. Oh, and fun fact: He had a no-hit streak that lasted 20 innings. That’s largely thanks to a masterful no-hitter against South Carolina on March 21, during which he fanned 16 batters and allowed just a single walk. In his next start, he had seven no-hit innings going against Missouri but was pulled due to concerns over his ballooning pitch count.
At this point, to call Leiter outstanding might even be an understatement. Of course, the ERA seems unsustainable, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the right-hander runs into a bad day – it’s a volatile sport, after all. But regardless of what happens in the future, he’s already made a lasting impression on fans and scouts. In the months leading up to the college baseball season, however, Leiter was at times overshadowed by teammate and fellow pitcher Kumar Rocker. And though Leiter was obviously well-regarded, his placement on public draft boards ranged. He was (and still is) No. 1 on our draft board, while MLB.com placed Rocker first and Leiter sixth in a ranking published in mid-December and Prospects Live featured Rocker first and Leiter fifth in their own mock draft published in January. Kiley McDaniel had Leiter second on his February board, ahead of Rocker, and noted that ranking Leiter above Rocker is “the consensus view after they’ve each made their first start of the season.”
There’s no doubt that Jack Leiter is good. However, it can be tricky to evaluate him because some of the standard metrics undersell his greatness. For example, let’s consider his four-seam fastball. It averaged around 92 mph last season, a mark that hardly stood out. He’s bumped it up to 93-94 mph this season, and he does top out at 98, but it’s possible to have overlooked him in favor of more eye-catching flamethrowers. His raw spin rates are between 2200 and 2400 rpm, a range that would appear light-blue if displayed on a Baseball Savant page. You might have expected more from a top pitching prospect, and that’s understandable. Read the rest of this entry »