Mets’ Harvey returns to start against Brewers

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MILWAUKEE — Matt Harvey Jersey will make his first start since returning from a three-game suspension Friday when he takes the mound for the New York Mets Jersey as they open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers Jersey at Miller Park.

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Harvey had been scheduled to start last Sunday against Miami but was scratched from that start after failing to show up at the ballpark a day earlier. Reports said Harvey told team officials that he was suffering from a migraine, but the team later learned that Harvey had been out until 4 a.m. the night before. Team officials ultimately decided to suspend the 28-year-old for a violation of team rules.

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The Mets got some bad news Thursday as closer Jeurys Familia Jersey was diagnosed with a blow clot in an artery in his right shoulder. He’ll undergo more testing and could require surgery, leaving his availability unknown.

Game Charlie Furbush Jersey It’s just the latest in a long string of struggles for the Mets, who in the last week have suspended Harvey’, placed Noah Syndergaard Jersey on the 60-day disabled list and dealt with an incident in which a photo of T.J. Rivera was posted to the team’s Twitter account with a clearly-visible sex toy located in a locker behind him.

Kids Charlie Furbush Jersey Collins said those distractions won’t derail his team.

“We have gotten where we have gotten the last two years with all of the things that have happened here because we have a tremendous clubhouse,” Collins said. “If you’re talking about the pranks guys play on each other, that’s part of the gig here, that’s part of professional — that’s part of a clubhouse atmosphere. People outside don’t like it, we really don’t care. It’s about our guys relaxing and having some fun.”

Harvey, who yielded one run and three hits in six innings without getting a decision against the Brewers last season, will be making his second career start against Milwaukee, which will counter with veteran right-hander Matt Garza Jersey.

Garza is making his third start of the season after opening the year on the disabled list with a strained groin.

He has looked good since returning to action, though, allowing just four earned runs in 17 2/3 innings of work (2.55 ERA) with 15 strikeouts and only three walks.

“Getting starting pitchers performing and doing well is big,” manager Craig Counsell said. “(Garza) has gotten into the seventh inning his last two starts, and that’s important. He’s done it well. He’s made pitches. As much as anything, just having a guy you’re (relying on) when you’re rolling around every fifth day (is valuable).

“He’s in a good spot right now. He’s pitching very well.”

Garza is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in four career starts against the Mets.

Matt Harvey, superhero? At this point, the Mets would settle for less

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Finally, we can bring this all back to baseball. Goodness knows, when it comes to Matt Harvey Jersey and the New York Mets Jersey, that has been easier said than done. However, for the first time in nine days, Harvey will take the mound for New York as the Mets kick off a road trip against the Milwaukee Brewers Jersey on Friday.

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It won’t be an easy test for Harvey, in many ways. That the Mets continue to hover around the .500 mark for the season is a minor miracle given the ongoing drama and, especially, a growing list of injuries that added one more name on Thursday when it was announced that closer Jeurys Familia Jersey has a blood clot in his pitching shoulder and was headed to St. Louis to visit Dr. Robert Thompson. More on Familia in a bit.

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Should the Mets consider sending Matt Harvey Jersey to the minors?Trade the embattled ace? New York would get pennies on the dollar right now. But there is another option that might help get Harvey’s career on track.

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Kids Ryan Cook Jersey Last season, New York navigated its way to the NL wild-card game when fill-ins such as Robert Gsellman Jersey and Seth Lugo Jersey admirably propped up an injury-ravaged rotation. Repeating that scenario is proving even more difficult for Mets manager Terry Collins this time around.

When Harvey was serving a three-game team suspension, New York’s rotation was missing him, Lugo, Noah Syndergaard Jersey and Steven Matz Jersey. That’s why poor Adam Wilk was summoned as an emergency starter on Sunday and designated for assignment on Monday. It’s also why Rafael Montero Jersey and his career 5.81 ERA is in the rotation, and why the Mets claimed struggling lefty Tommy Milone Jersey on waivers from Milwaukee last weekend.

The Mets not only need to clear the air with Harvey but also badly need him to fill some of the production void opened up by Syndergaard’s injury. New York might find others to eat innings, but with Jacob deGrom Jersey already doing all he can, Harvey remains the best hope for a second top-of-the-rotation guy in the absence of Syndergaard. And, sad to say, that hope may be a long shot.

There was a lot of uncertainty regarding Harvey’s recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that has probably been around for a long time but which has emerged in the public eye only in recent seasons. When Harvey’s velocity went missing early in spring training, there was concern that he had lost too much off his fastball, a devastating development for a pitcher so dependent on elite hard stuff.

Late into the spring, it wasn’t even certain that Harvey would break camp with the team. But the velocity started to come back in flashes, and Harvey ended up starting the Mets’ third game of the season. That was encouraging. Indeed, Harvey’s surgeon, the aforementioned Thompson, has emerged as the Frank Jobe/James Andrews of TOS, and his studies have suggested that those who have undergone Harvey’s procedure have fared pretty well, though the sample size is admittedly small.

So it was with hope that we looked forward to Harvey’s 2017 season. But even before the suspension, from a results standpoint, Harvey was trending in the wrong direction. He was rocked in his past two starts, both against the Braves, raising his ERA from 2.84 to 5.14.

He has struck out just five batters in 16? innings over his past three starts. For the season, Harvey’s 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings is 3.7 fewer than his career average. His walk rate (3.3) is his highest since his rookie season. On top of that, Harvey has already given up seven homers in 35 innings. For contrast, consider that in 2013, the year before Harvey sat out because of Tommy John surgery, he gave up seven homers in 178? innings.

Harvey’s fielding-independent ERA (5.74) suggests that he’s actually lucky to sport that 5.14 ERA. That makes the Friday start against the Brewers all the more challenging. Milwaukee ranks fourth in the majors in runs and is tied with Washington for the lead in homers. Nearly half the Brewers’ runs this season (49.7 percent) have come via the long ball.

In terms of pitch selection, Harvey has thrown fewer fastballs — 56.6 percent of his pitches thus far, 2.2 percent less often than his career average. He’s throwing his slider about 6 percent more often (23 percent of pitches). Meanwhile, Harvey has largely ditched his curveball, throwing it only 6.3 percent of the time, or about half as often as he used to throw it, and we’ve seen more of his changeup, which was the last pitch Harvey added to his repertoire during his minor league days.

Harvey’s performance with the more frequent soft stuff has been very good. According to TruMedia, he has allowed a .245 weighted on-base average on those pitches (sliders, curves and changes) this season, near his career mark of .248. Opponents have posted just a .558 on-base plus slugging percentage when putting these pitches in play against him this season.

Unfortunately, the hard stuff has been another story. Harvey’s fastball has been hammered to the tune of a .406 WOBA and a .921 OPS in the early going. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear despite all of the hand-wringing there has been over the quality of Harvey’s stuff. His average fastball velocity (94.2 mph) is indeed down 1.1 mph from his career mark but remains high enough for him to gain separation for his secondary offerings. His max velocity (97.8) isn’t what it was but still indicates he can reach back for gas when needed. His spin rate on fastballs thus far is well above his career norms, and he’s even getting more horizontal movement.

Harvey has struck out just five batters in 16 2/3 innings over his last three starts, and his walk rate (3.3) is his highest since his rookie season. His 5.14 ERA is 81st among qualified starting pitchers. Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsAs for control and command, Harvey’s strike-throwing rates with his fastball are right on target with his career; 57.5 percent is actually a couple of ticks above his norm. But his chase rate (16.5 percent) is half of what it was, and when he does get hitters to swing, they are making contact 6.6 percent more frequently than his career mark. What is up with that?

The primary culprit may simply be Harvey’s inability to throw consistent first-pitch strikes. His strike rate (including swings) on first pitches is just 62.8 percent, down from more than 65 percent in his career. He has thrown just 52.7 percent of his first pitches in the zone. That ranks roughly in the middle of the pack among qualifying pitchers, but it’s down 4.3 percent from his career mark. And that matters a lot for him: Since Harvey’s elbow surgery, he has allowed just a .273 WOBA after 0-1 counts, but that jumps to .365 when he gets behind 1-0. So is it a matter of Harvey simply throwing more first-pitch strikes? Probably not. Such things are often more of a symptom than a cure.

Most likely, it’s a confluence of factors, and whatever they are, they’ve resulted in batters chasing fewer of his offerings and missing fewer of the ones they swing at. Still, his underlying metrics suggest there is enough there for Harvey to win with. And boy, do the Mets need Harvey to do just that.

The Mets were projected to post the third-best starters’ fielding-independent pitching ERA in the big leagues at the start of the season, behind the Dodgers and Nationals. That’s despite conservative innings-pitched estimates stemming from New York’s recent injury history. The Mets’ bullpen looked solid as well, though that included Familia at the back end of it.

However, projections for the hitters (21st in runs) and fielders (29th in defensive runs saved) looked shaky. In other words, the bottom-line forecast of 86 wins for New York — good enough to be within sniffing distance of a pre-breakout Washington club — was highly dependent on a rotation that has massively underachieved over the season’s first six weeks.

New York has gotten a quality start in just 42 percent of its games, down from 54 percent last season and 62 percent in 2015. The Mets rank 26th in starters’ ERA (4.89) and 25th in starters’ WAR (0.4, exactly replacement level), per Three of the five hurlers to start at least five games have an ERA at least a half-run above the National League average and another, Syndergaard, is on the shelf. Matz and Lugo each have yet to throw an inning.

All along, it was going to have to be the Mets’ starting rotation that led the charge. That’s what makes Harvey’s struggles on and off the field to start the season so unfortunate. Beginning Friday, we’ll see if Harvey, and the Mets, are ready to put that start behind them.

Hot corner has been ice cold for the Red Sox; what’s next?

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BOSTON — The hot corner has gone cold. Frigid, actually.

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Through 34 games, the Boston Red Sox Jersey already have used six third basemen. And between them, Pablo Sandoval Jersey, Brock Holt Jersey, Marco Hernandez Jersey, Steve Selsky, Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero Jersey have posted a .574 OPS, dead last in the majors at the position. Worse yet, they have combined for 12 errors, four more than any other team’s total at third base.

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Red Sox manager John FarrellSuch incompetence is untenable in any circumstance. But for a post-David Ortiz Jersey era Red Sox team that knows it won’t score as many runs without its retired designated hitter and is counting more than ever on pitching and run prevention to win games, it’s particularly damaging.

Game Steve Cishek Jersey So, as the Sox return Friday to Fenway Park to open a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays Jersey, it’s well worth asking what they’re going to do about their festering third-base problem.

Kids Steve Cishek Jersey “I’ve considered an exorcism at third base,” manager John Farrell said recently. “See if we can clean things up in some form or fashion.”

All kidding aside, the Red Sox have a few options short of ancient ritual healing. A look at some potential solutions:

1. Get healthy, then let the best man win.

Two and a half weeks after going on the disabled list with a sprained right knee, Sandoval is inching closer to a minor league rehab assignment. But his return to the field hardly guarantees an uptick in performance.

The Red Sox have been below league average in OPS at third base in each of the past four seasons. They bottomed out at .580 in 2014, prompting them to sign Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract. But they still ranked 11th in the American League with a .693 OPS in 2015.

Sandoval was off to a slow start before his injury. He’s batting .213 with three homers and a .646 OPS in 67 plate appearances and is only 3-for-16 from the right side of the plate. He also made four errors in 16 games.

It’s noteworthy, then, that Holt also is nearing a return after a three-week absence due to vertigo. The utility man is most valuable when he’s shuttling between multiple positions, and as a left-handed hitter, he doesn’t fit as a platoon partner for Sandoval. But if Holt outplays Sandoval, he also represents an everyday alternative at third base.

Let’s not forget that Farrell turned to Holt late last season over lefty-hitting Travis Shaw Jersey, even starting him at third base in the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians Jersey.

2. Turn to a top prospect.

Through 26 games at Double-A Portland, 20-year-old Rafael Devers is 29-for-95 (.305) with a .919 OPS and six homers, including a grand slam last Saturday that was estimated at 426 feet. Not bad for the second-youngest player in the Eastern League behind New York Yankees Jersey shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres.

“Right now” isn’t the time for top prospect Rafael Devers. But tomorrow, or the next day … ? Butch Dill/USA TODAY SportsOh, and did we mention that Devers is a third baseman?

“Devers has done great,” said Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski, who made a scheduled trip to Portland this week. “We like him a lot. He’s having a great season. He’s in Double-A at 20 years old right now. We’re happy where he is right now.”

Operative words: “Right now.”

Dombrowski has a history of fast-tracking prospects when there’s a clear need at the big league level. In 2009, for example, he put Rick Porcello Jersey in the Detroit Tigers Jersey’ rotation as a 20-year-old rookie. Just last season, the Sox promoted Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada directly from Double-A with the intention of playing them every day at left field and third base, respectively.

But that wasn’t until after the All-Star break. And while Benintendi adjusted seamlessly thanks in part to a college pedigree that produced an advanced plate approach, Moncada went 4-for-19 with 12 strikeouts and wasn’t the immediate fix the Red Sox were seeking.

Moncada’s struggles last September might serve as a cautionary tale for rushing Devers. At a minimum, the Sox likely will expose Devers to older, craftier pitchers in Triple-A before bringing him to the big leagues.

If Devers continues to rake in the minors, though, and Boston’s play at third base doesn’t improve, his debut will come sooner than expected.

3. Make a trade.

It’s not yet even Memorial Day, so most teams aren’t close to being ready to talk trade. When they are, though, you know Dealer Dave will be dialing the phone.

Since he was hired in August 2015, Dombrowski has proved to be both aggressive and decisive in upgrading the roster. Last year he struck early, making moves for infielder Aaron Hill Jersey, reliever Brad Ziegler Jersey and starter Drew Pomeranz Jersey well ahead of the trade deadline.

Third base isn’t the only area of need. Depending on the status of relievers Carson Smith Jersey and Tyler Thornburg Jersey, the Red Sox could be in the market for bullpen help. Smith is recovering from last year’s Tommy John surgery and doesn’t figure to be ready until at least late June, while Thornburg still hasn’t thrown from a mound since being diagnosed in spring training with a right shoulder impingement.

But if third base remains a glaring trouble spot even after the returns of Sandoval and Holt, don’t be surprised if the Red Sox are linked to Mike Moustakas Jersey of the Kansas City Royals Jersey and Todd Frazier Jersey of the Chicago White Sox Jersey, both of whom are signed only through this season and might not require a hefty prospect haul.

Otherwise, there’s always that exorcism Farrell mentioned.

Can Eddie Butler answer the Cubs’ No. 5 starter question?

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ST. LOUIS — Before the Chicago Cubs Jersey start trading away coveted prospects for pitching, they’ll stay in-house for a tryout.

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Right-hander Eddie Butler Jersey replaces the ineffective and injured Brett Anderson Jersey in the rotation as the Cubs seek to find some consistency from their starters. Who is Butler and what can he bring to Chicago’s staff when he takes the mound against the first-place St. Louis Cardinals Jersey on Friday night?

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A first-round pick in the 2012 draft, the 26-year-old Butler was acquired after bottoming out with the Colorado Rockies Jersey. His career 6.50 ERA tells the story of his Coors Field struggles, but so far with the Cubs he has been lights out.

Game Joaquin Benoit Jersey “He’s a guy that relies on heavy sink with his fastball, so when he’s right he’s getting a lot of ground balls,” Hoyer said.

Kids Joaquin Benoit Jersey Butler compiled a 1.17 ERA in five Triple-A starts after impressing the organization with a 0.95 WHIP in five spring-training appearances. He’s the classic change-of-scenery guy, especially as a pitcher getting away from Coors Field, where he couldn’t get his sinker to produce grounders the way he must to succeed. In fact, he averaged more fly ball outs than ground balls with the Rockies.

The thin air of Denver didn’t help matters, but not all of his struggles can be blamed on pitching in Colorado. His career road ERA is 5.40, and according to ESPN Stats & Information, his ground ball-to-fly ball rate was nearly identical from home (49 percent) to road (51 percent). At least now he’ll be able to use his four pitches more evenly at Wrigley Field and on the road.

“He has to put the ball on the ground, and when we’re right as a team, that’s something we do exceptionally well,” Hoyer said. “We convert balls on the ground to outs.”

If Butler lasts more than a couple of innings, he’ll be an improvement over Anderson, who totaled 1 2/3 over his past two starts. That, combined with 13-inning and 18-inning games over the course of eight days, set the Cubs up for failure and, of course, a taxed bullpen.

Now, it’s Butler’s turn to try to go deep into games. If he succeeds, it’s his job to keep.

“We have confidence in him,” Hoyer said.

Even if Butler takes hold of a spot in the rotation, the Cubs are still going to be searching for pitching this summer, though.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting,” Hoyer said. “I think we’ll always be looking for it. One of the frustrations so far has been inconsistent pitching, but it’s been healthy besides Anderson. We have to think about the next layer of pitching [in case of injury].”

Butler’s performance will go a long way in determining how much pitching the Cubs will look to acquire, and he won’t be eased into anything because the rival Cardinals have won six in a row to take hold of the division lead.

“Hopefully Eddie can give us a good start on Friday,” Hoyer said.

Death, taxes and Mike Trout’s WAR

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Mike Trout Jersey’s season began with a 6-4-3 double play in Oakland. He didn’t, to his credit, ground into a triple play, which was technically possible in that situation. He didn’t injure a teammate or accidentally reveal his club’s signs. Otherwise, though, it was the most damaging thing he could have done. He hadn’t yet played any defense in 2017, he hadn’t yet run the bases, and if you looked briefly at him walking back to the Angels’ dugout, you’d have seen a near-optical illusion: Mike Trout Jersey was the least valuable player in baseball.

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Wins above replacement, or WAR, is a framework that incorporates everything a player does on offense and defense and expresses it as runs produced or saved compared to a theoretical “replacement player.” Different sites have different ways of calculating this, though for hitters there’s generally strong agreement. We’re using Baseball Prospectus’ model here, because it alone could be tracked daily from Opening Day on. One win is generally equal to about 10 runs, so .1 WAR is roughly one run produced or save; a win costs somewhere between $8 million and $10 million in the free-agent market these days.

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Of course, Trout is pretty much always the most valuable player in baseball. Since his first full season, in 2012, this has been close to inevitable. He has led the majors in WAR, as computed by Baseball-Reference, in all five of his full seasons; as computed by FanGraphs, four times; as computed by Baseball Prospectus, twice. He has never finished lower than second on any of the three sites’ leaderboards, he has never failed to lead the American League, and he has never failed to lead at least one site’s leaderboard.

Game Jonathan Aro Jersey So we knew Trout would quickly climb out of this optical illusion. We knew he’d most likely climb past every major league player and regain his spot at the top. We didn’t know how long it would take, or what it would look like, or what specifically valuable things Trout would do along the way. So we decided to see if we could watch it happen. This is the day-by-day accounting of Mike Trout Jersey’s inevitability.

Kids Jonathan Aro Jersey Day 1 to Day 14: The inevitability of Mike Trout Jersey being goodDay 1: .16 WAR

It took Trout only one more at-bat, in fact, to get back above replacement level; he hit a pretty good pitch 113 mph for a third-inning home run. He’d go on to ground out and double, ending Opening Day with, according to Baseball Prospectus, .16 WAR. If he did that every day, he’d end up with 26 WAR on the season, which would be about double the greatest season ever.

That he’s not first in baseball after one day has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the challenge of beating a huge field in small sample size competition. He trails 20 other players after Day 1. Among them is his former teammate Jeff Mathis Jersey, the game’s worst hitter over the past decade, who knocks three hits on Opening Day. (Mathis will collect four hits in the month-plus that follows.)

Editor’s PicksWhat is the new .300? How to read a 21st century baseball cardBeing a .300 hitter was once so important, Cap Anson wanted it inscribed on his tombstone. Now, with stats like WAR, WPA and OPS, what should today’s hitters aim for? We have the answer.

For the same two minutes every game, Yu Darvish Jersey is an awful pitcherThe ace of the Texas Rangers Jersey is very, very good. But he has a singular weakness — and you can set your watch by it.

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But of the 20 players ahead of Trout after Opening Day, only two, Freddie Freeman Jersey and Chase Headley Jersey, will still be ahead of him three weeks later, and only Freeman will be ahead of him the week after that.

When you see Headley at the top of a WAR leaderboard — as he was on April 6, April 11 and April 15 — you know he’s just playing out of his mind. Headley was hitting .410 through a dozen games, then began the inevitable regression to his normal talent level. By the end of April he was hitting .301, still good enough for Headley to produce his best OPS in a month (.896) since September 2013. That’s out-of-his-mind Headley hanging out near the top of the leaderboard. But Trout was just playing. He wasn’t streaking, he wasn’t getting lucky, he wasn’t seeing the ball well. He accumulates by simply being, because Trout doesn’t slump.

This is what counts as a Mike Trout Jersey slump:

Day 2: .05 WAR

Day 3: .05

Day 4: -.06 (0-for-3 with a walk and an error)

He hits .250/.308/.500 in those three games. He makes a silly error in the outfield, letting a simple single roll to the wall. He adds only .04 WAR in three games, which is a two-win pace over a full season. That’s an average major leaguer. That’s his slump. He’s out of it the next day:

Day 5: .05 WAR

Day 6: .07

Since his first full season, Trout has had one month, August 2015, in which he hit worse than the league-average hitter. He has had only two in which he had an OPS below .800. The best metaphor for Trout is probably the late Bob Ross when he hosted “The Joy Of Painting” on PBS: It’s calm, it’s controlled, a friendly stroke here, a happy dab there, and the end result is quietly fantastic.

There are things that even WAR, an all-in-one framework that aspires to include everything that can be observed and measured, doesn’t yet capture. On Day 3, Trout’s the trailing runner in a first-and-third situation. Albert Pujols Jersey bats. Trout takes off on the first pitch, and Pujols hits a soft line drive that glances off the pitcher’s glove and into shallow center field. The second baseman was covering for Trout’s stolen base attempt, or he might well have fielded the ball.

Trout’s WAR gets no credit for that (Pujols’ WAR does). Because he wasn’t the lead runner on the play, he doesn’t even get extra credit for going first to third on the hit. But it’s worth noting that Trout might be having the best baserunning season of his career. He has taken the extra base (going first to third on a single, for example) 71 percent of the time, a career best. He’s 5-for-5 on stolen bases. And even when he doesn’t get credit for a stolen base, he has been valuable: Pujols, batting behind him, has hit into only two double plays, less than half as many per plate appearance as he had previously hit while an Angel. Happy little clouds. Every day’s a good day when you’re Trout.

Day 6 begins with an on-field ceremony for the presentation of Trout’s AL MVP award. In his first at-bat, he strikes out looking after a 14-pitch at-bat against Felix Hernandez Jersey. Six innings later, Trout bats again, but Hernandez has been pulled from the game after throwing 100 pitches — 14 of them, remember, in one epic matchup against Trout. Evan Scribner Jersey, a homer-prone reliever, has relieved him. With one on and one out, Trout homers, breaking a 3-3 tie. The crowd chants “MVP!” Thirty-one batters remain ahead of him on the WAR leaderboard.

Day 7: .00 WAR

Day 8: .21

On Day 8, the Angels go into the ninth inning trailing the Rangers by three. With two outs and a runner on first, Trout represents the tying run. He doubles to right field, driving in one run; then, when Pujols singles to left, Trout races home safely for the tying run, despite being two long strides from third base when left fielder Ryan Rua Jersey fields the ball on a charge. The game goes to extra innings, and in the 10th inning, Trout robs Mike Napoli Jersey of a potential game-winning home run. (This catch was worth about 1.6 runs, according to Baseball-Reference’s model for WAR, which Trout will lead the majors in by Day 10. BP’s defensive metrics work differently, so this is just a regular catch.) The Angels will win in a walk-off.

The Angels will lose the next six games. Trout will be the club’s entire offense. He’ll hit .368/.478/.526 while his team scores a total of nine runs in six games. Tucked in there will be the one genuinely bad game he has all month: an 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a shutout against the Royals.

Day 9: .10 WAR

Day 10: .12

Day 11: -.02 (1-for-4)

Day 12: .08

Day 13: -.08 (0-for-4, two strikeouts)

Day 14: .14

This is the Angels’ six-game losing streak. Trout hits .368/.478/.526 and plays at a 9-WAR pace.

By this point, baseball’s early-season leaderboards have begun to settle down. Trout ranks 11th in the majors in WAR, with about two-thirds the total of MLB leader Eric Thames. Trout hasn’t done anything but play like himself. He gave the league its chance: Eighty-six players were ahead of him on the WAR leaderboard at some point, from superstars such as Corey Seager Jersey and Nolan Arenado Jersey to one-week wonders such as Tyler Saladino Jersey, Dustin Garneau Jersey and Manny Pina. He gave all 86 of them a head start. Then he chased nearly all of them down, one by one, without even getting hot.

Day 15 to Day 26: The inevitability of Mike Trout Jersey being greatDay 15: .05 WAR

Day 16: .01

Day 17: .18

Day 18: .09

Day 19: .21

Day 20: .00

Day 21: .04

Day 22: .13

Day 23: -.03 (1-for-5 with a stolen base)

Day 24: .04

Day 25: .20

Day 26: .21

Here’s my favorite plate appearance of Trout’s season so far, more fun (to me) than even the 14-pitch at-bat against King Felix. It was against Yu Darvish Jersey, in the third inning on April 29.

Trout falls behind 0-2. There’s probably no starter in baseball tougher to hit after falling behind than Darvish, who has eight strikeout pitches. Since Darvish made his debut in 2012, batters have hit .111/.137/.160 after falling behind 0-2 against him, worse even than pitchers have hit against the Rangers ace. The .297 OPS allowed is lower than any starter’s in that time, except for the late Jose Fernandez Jersey’s. Nearly 60 percent of batters have struck out after falling behind 0-2 to Darvish.

Trout starts working at him, though. He fouls off a fastball, takes a slider just low and away, fouls off a sinker on the lower inside edge of the zone, then takes a curveball inches outside. On 2-2, he gets a fastball low, and the umpire flinches; Trout, anticipating the call, is already turned and almost arguing before the umpire can raise his arm — and the umpire folds, calling it a ball. Darvish and the Rangers can’t believe it. (ESPN Stats & Info estimates the pitch is a strike 20 percent of the time; Baseball Prospectus says it’s a strike 80 percent of the time. It was so close even the algorithms can’t agree.) Given one more pitch, Trout rips a 96 mph fastball on the inner edge into the left-field corner, breaking a scoreless tie. When the throw home gets past the catcher, Trout moves to third, beating a tag by inches; four pitches later, he’ll score on a sacrifice fly. It was speed, power, plate discipline and situational awareness, all in one at-bat, all against one of the least hittable pitchers baseball has ever produced.

The double extended his hitting streak to 13 games. In those 13 games, he hit .420/.482/.800. He had 10 “high-leverage” plate appearances in that time, including that plate appearance against Darvish. In those 10, he doubled three times, homered twice, walked and got hit by a pitch. On the season, he’s now hitting .500/.679/1.222 in 28 high-leverage situations. His Win Probability Added — a stat that measures the change in a team’s likelihood of winning before and after each plate appearance, and credits the difference to the hitter — is, at 2.7, the best in baseball by a mile. Only five hitters in all of baseball have a WPA even half of Mike Trout Jersey’s.

When Trout was 50th in WAR, back on Day 4, it was hard for him to make up ground on the leader, because the leader was constantly churning with each new early-season hot streak. But by now, there are only five, then four, then one guy ahead of him. He’s closing fast, and when Day 26 ends he’s about one single behind the leader, Bryce Harper Jersey:

Day 27 to Day 37 (and counting): Nothing is inevitable once it ceases to be inevitableAmong other “nevers” in Trout’s superlative career is this: Trout has never really been hurt — at least not seriously enough to hit the disabled list. Heading into this week, according to Baseball Injury Consultants’ database, Trout had missed a total of 16 games in his major league career, for a variety of small ailments: a viral infection, a bruised knee, back inflammation.

Trout’s march to the top of the WAR leaderboard, though, takes a stumble. He sits out Day 30 with a strained hamstring. It isn’t serious, Angels manager Mike Scioscia reassures us. “If this was a playoff game, he’d be playing,” he tells reporters. But then after one game in the lineup — Day 31, -.08 WAR, hitting streak extended to a career-best 17 games — Trout is scratched again Saturday. And then in each of the next four games, before returning to action Thursday, going 0-for-4 as the DH to snap his hit streak.

“Hamstring’s a different animal,” Scioscia says before the third missed game. “If your shoulder is a little sore you can DH. When your hamstring is a little tight, you need to make sure you get it addressed. Right now, to go out and play center field would be putting him at risk.”

Aside from parochial interests, I think there are two reasons that baseball stays entertaining to most of us even after thousands of games. The first is that we love to see the completely unexpected, and baseball provides a lot of it: the ridiculous triple plays and the extraordinary comebacks and Eric Thames. The second is that we love to see the completely predictable. We love the logic and steady reliability of large samples. We love to watch Mike Trout Jersey knowing that he’s going to be great, that we can invest our attention in him and trust the inevitability of his greatness. It is reassuring.

Trout is — still and undeniably — the best player in baseball. He is better than Kris Bryant Jersey, who passes him again in WAR during these missed games. He’s better than Ryan Zimmerman Jersey, Freddie Freeman Jersey and Marcell Ozuna Jersey, who repass him during these missed games, and who broaden the gap between Trout and the top of the leaderboard.

He is as close to inevitable as there is, and, his manager claims, he is still getting better.

“It’s not like there’s one play you look at and say, ‘My gosh, he’s getting it,'” Scioscia said Sunday. “But experience is the best teacher there is. As you play and read those adjustments, reading the pitchers, getting jumps, understanding the speed of the game, understanding outfielders; arms — you see his decision-making process becoming a lot cleaner.”

Even with the missed games, Trout, at 25, remains on pace to match or top his best seasons ever, regardless of which site’s WAR you’re using.

He is, it is also helpful to remember, built out of hamstrings and rotator cuffs and fingers and a neck. Appreciate every second, because there’s really only one inevitability in this sport.

Real or not? Zack Greinke is an ace again, the AL is still better

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Believe it or not, we’re in a no-hitter drought. We’ve gone more than a year since Jake Arrieta Jersey’s no-hitter last April, the longest span since Randy Johnson’s perfect game in May 2004 and Anibal Sanchez Jersey’s no-hitter in September 2006.

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I was watching Dodgers-Rockies on Thursday night, but once the Rockies took a 7-0 lead, I flipped over to Pirates-Diamondbacks. Zack Greinke Jersey was doing some serious dealing, and as he rolled through six and then seven innings without a hit, it seemed like it was going to happen. David Peralta Jersey had made a diving catch in the first to help Greinke get to this point, but he had 10 strikeouts and an efficient 75 pitches through six innings, 11 K’s and 90 pitches through seven.

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Fernando Rodney Jersey would close out the 2-1 victory as Jeff Mathis Jersey delivered a perfect throw to nail Josh Harrison Jersey stealing to end the game.

Wholesale Limited Mariners Jersey Got him. #OurSeason

Wholesale Mariners Jersey — Arizona Diamondbacks Jersey (@Dbacks) May 12, 2017

Some notes on Greinke’s performance from researcher Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information:

He used his slider 37.4 percent of the time, his highest usage rate with the pitch within the past nine seasons.Eight strikeouts on his slider, his most in a game since July 3, 2011, at the Twins as a member of the Brewers (also eight).Got swinging strikes on 35 percent of his sliders, his second game this season with a 35 percent or higher swinging-strike rate on the pitch. He had one such game all of last season.That last note is the key. The slider was huge for him in 2015, when he held batters to a .381 OPS with it. Last season, that jumped to .541. In 2017, his 43.7 percent strikeout rate with the slider is his highest since 2012, a key reason Greinke’s ERA is down to 2.79 and he has a 38-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio his past four starts.

The American League is still better

We had two interleague games Thursday and both ended up as dramatic victories for the AL team.

In Texas, the Rangers trailed the Padres 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. After Rougned Odor Jersey tied the game with an RBI single — he actually shortened his swing and slashed a ball past the third baseman into left field — Mike Napoli Jersey sat on a 3-1 fastball from Brandon Maurer Jersey and did this:

Turn off the lights. @MikeNapoli25 says this one is OVER.

— MLB (@MLB) May 12, 2017

For the struggling Napoli, who entered the game hitting .160, it was second homer in two innings after he slammed another long one off Clayton Richard Jersey in the eighth. They were measured at 436 and 437 feet. You can’t really fault Maurer for trying to throw a 95-mph fastball past Napoli, given his troubles against good velocity. Since 2015, he’s hitting .155 against 95-plus. Good idea, better swing.

In Milwaukee, the Red Sox and Brewers were tied 1-1 in the ninth when Mookie Betts Jersey did his thing with a three-run homer off Neftali Feliz Jersey:

[email protected] goes DEEP for the W.

— Boston Red Sox Jersey (@RedSox) May 11, 2017

And Craig Kimbrel Jersey’s ninth inning was just as impressive, as he had a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning to close out the game.

We tie these games together to provide you this public-service announcement: The American League leads in interleague play 33-20. The American League has won interleague play the previous 13 seasons, including 165-135 last season. The American League is, apparently, still the stronger league. In the offseason I speculated that the Cubs’ success should make the National League better, since the rest of the league will have to push harder to beat the Cubs.

It’s still early, and it’s important to note that the AL East has played the majority of the AL’s interleague games, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles a combined 18-8, playing primarily against the NL Central. The Twins, White Sox, A’s and Angels have yet to play any interleague games while the Dodgers and Rockies have yet to play any from the AL.

An interesting statistical quirk: Eight of the top 10 starting pitchers in ERA are from the AL. That doesn’t really mean anything at this point, but then I noticed this:

AL: 4.39 runs per game

NL: 4.62 runs per game

Since the AL introduced the designated hitter in 1973, it has scored more runs per game than the NL every season except 1974. It was close last season — 4.52 in the AL, 4.44 in the NL — but the NL is significantly ahead right now. Maybe this all because of the production at first base. Maybe the AL has gone for pitching and defense over offense, or the NL has developed more offensive players or AL teams have deeper bullpens. Anyway, there’s one interleague series this weekend: Padres at White Sox.

The throw. Great game at Yankee Stadium in the first of a four-game showdown between the Astros and Yankees. Jake Marisnick Jersey is on the Astros’ roster because he can play defense and he ended the game with an assist at home to cut down Jacoby Ellsbury Jersey, the tying run:

[email protected] LASER.

— Houston Astros Jersey (@astros) May 12, 2017

Two keys on the play: Marisnick did a great job charging the ball, so he wasn’t that deep when he fielded it. He didn’t rush the throw, knowing he had time even with the speedy Ellsbury running. Note as well that he was pretty shallow to begin with, even with Gary Sanchez Jersey at the plate. Great positioning, smart play, terrific throw.

Oh, and another superb effort from Dallas Keuchel Jersey, who allowed only an unearned run in six innings. The Yankees went 0-for-6 with five strikeouts against his slider.

Keuchel has a 1.24 ERA in 7 career starts against NYY, including '15 AL wild card game. "Maybe I just like the New York lights." he said.

— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) May 12, 2017

Quick thoughts … The Rockies jumped all over Hyun-Jin Ryu Jersey in the first game of the big NL West series in Denver. A throwing error by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes Jersey on a sacrifice attempt by the pitcher led to five unearned runs in the second. If they’re going to give you an out at Coors, you have to take it. … The one negative was the Dodgers rallied back and Greg Holland had to come on in the ninth with a 10-6 lead and two runners. He closed it out for his 15th save. … The one bright spot in Kansas City has been Jason Vargas Jersey, who tossed seven scoreless against the Rays to lower his ERA to 1.01. He’s going to draw some trade interest. … Tough day for injuries as Trevor Story Jersey (strained left shoulder), Kenta Maeda Jersey (hamstring), Ryan Braun Jersey (calf) and Francisco Liriano Jersey (shoulder inflammation) all landed on the disabled list or, in Braun’s case, appear headed there. … Maybe a DL stint will help clear Story’s head, as he’s hitting .180 with an awful 37.5 percent strikeout rate. … Welcome back, Mike Trout Jersey. After missing the past four games and six of seven with a tight hamstring, he returned as the DH, but went 0-for-4 to snap a 17-game hitting streak. … Finally, Thursday was a happy birthday for Miguel Sano Jersey, who homered and walked twice in the Twins’ 7-6 victory. He’s at .304/.441/.667 and you can pencil him in as the Twins’ All-Star rep.

Dallas Keuchel is back in command, but he’s a different pitcher

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I love Dallas Keuchel Jersey. He’s not big, he doesn’t throw hard, he has that beard that says he just spent four months in the Amazon searching for the Lost City of Z and he majored in apparel studies in college at Arkansas, one of the least likely people you would have figured to be an apparel studies major.

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Keuchel starts Thursday night at Yankee Stadium in the opening game of a four-game series between the 23-11 Houston Astros Jersey and 21-10 New York Yankees Jersey, an early tussle in which both teams will want to puff out their chests a bit to prove they’re a team to beat in the American League.

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— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 11, 2017

Cheap Limited Mariners Jersey Keuchel is 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA, has held batters to a .179 average and has pitched at least seven innings in each of his seven starts. In other words, Keuchel looks a lot like the pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 2015.

Cheap Mariners Jersey Except he’s not exactly the same pitcher.

Check out his pitch location heat maps from 2015, 2016 and 2017:

ESPN TruMediaESPN TruMediaESPN TruMediaIn his Cy Young season, he consistently pounded the outside corner. You can’t see it on the heat map, but the approach was similar to both right-handed batters and left-handed batters: low and away, using his four-pitch repertoire (fastball, changeup, slider, cutter).

In 2016, he pitched up in the zone too often and missed the final month of the season with left shoulder inflammation. Not surprisingly, in spring training, Keuchel acknowledged he had pitched throughout the season with pain that started in spring training of 2016, following a season in which he led the AL in innings pitched.

“It was basically I tried to pitch through an injury I should have said something with, and I learned my lesson,” he said in February. “If you say something from the beginning, you’ll be better off. That’s something that I’ll do.”

With Keuchel healthy again after an offseason of rest, the 2017 heat map shows he is pounding the bottom of the strike zone even more than he did in 2015, but he’s also mixing his location a bit more, relying less on that outside corner. Check out some of his pitch location percentages:

Lower third of the zone

2015: 56.1 percent

2016: 55.6 percent

2017: 72.1 percent

Inner half of the zone

2015: 36.2 percent

2016: 40.5 percent

2017: 42.0 percent

One thing that hasn’t changed is that Keuchel is still trying to get batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. Of 102 qualified starting pitchers, Keuchel ranks 97th in percentage of pitches that are actually in the zone, at just 41.8 percent. Hitters know this is Keuchel’s approach — they have a fairly low swing rate against him — but like Tom Glavine back in the day, Keuchel is the master of deception. It looks like a strike, then it isn’t, and the batter rolls a weak grounder to the infield. It helps when you’re getting movement like this:

59 seconds with Dallas Keuchel Jersey's Movement/Command.

— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2017

So, everything at the knees, with movement. That’s why Keuchel induces so much weak contact despite a fastball that sits at 88-89 mph. He’s also willing to throw any pitch at any time. Check out this graphic from Daren Willman of MLB Statcast:

Dallas Keuchel Jersey throws every pitch he has on 3-2…

— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 11, 2017

Most pitchers still have to rely on their fastball to set up the off-speed pitches, in Keuchel’s case a two-seam sinker. The best hope for batters is that he leaves one up in the zone (probably not) or one flattens out (once in a while, as he has allowed six home runs, including four off fastballs).

So sit back and enjoy Thursday’s game, with the art of pitching on display.

Juice the ball. Or don’t juice it. Just tell us!

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I was at a sabermetric conference in Cambridge last August watching a physics professor, Alan Nathan, give a presentation on the possibility of a juiced ball in major league baseball, when around Slide 16, I found myself in a near-frenzy of intrigue and excitement.

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Nathan, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the physics of baseball, had shown that the power spike over the previous year — a spike that has continued this year with record numbers of home runs being hit — could be traced mostly to increased exit velocity on fly balls. In other words, it wasn’t atmospheric factors such as weather, it wasn’t that batters were hitting more fly balls, and it wasn’t that some fluke number of fly balls were just making it over the wall instead of just shy of it. The ball was traveling faster off the bat, with the change coming almost overnight the previous summer, right around the time some teams reportedly got fresh supplies. It seemed it must be the ball. There was no other reasonable explanation.

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For the same two minutes every game, Yu Darvish Jersey is an awful pitcherThe ace of the Texas Rangers Jersey is very, very good. But he has a singular weakness — and you can set your watch by it.

Limited Seth Smith Jersey Baseball without injured aces? Be careful what you wish forIt would be great to see Noah Syndergaard Jersey healthy and throwing thunder. But there’s actually an awkward truth: MLB kind of needs pitchers to get hurt.

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It’s a thrilling thing, the feeling of believing in a conspiracy. There’s a rush in realizing that heavy forces might be running the world but that we are on to them. It gives us a sort of empowerment that we wouldn’t feel if we accepted that the strongest forces in the world are actually random, unpredictable, uncontrollable and undesigned.

At the Hardball Times last year, Jack Moore traced the first juiced-ball conspiracists to 1921, and over the past three decades especially, the theories have been accelerating. Not all conspiracy theories are crazy: In 2013, the Japanese baseball commissioner resigned in scandal after the league was caught secretly using a livelier ball.

Here’s the key: That commissioner, Ryozo Kato, was punished for his secrecy; two years earlier, the ball was changed to make it more like the one used in American baseball, and it was made openly with no accompanying scandal. If there’s a lesson here for MLB, it’s this: Quit being coy. Just juice the danged ball!

Or unjuice it. Juice it one year, and unjuice it the next. Do it all the time if it’s good for the game. Do it every Monday. Just do it publicly.

Major League Baseball, and its individual clubs, have always taken an active role in preserving an equilibrium on the field, and they’ve done it openly. The league periodically makes official changes to the strike zone, it periodically sends umpires directives to adjust their de facto zones more closely to the rulebook, and it uses its own technology to enforce the strike zone it wants to see. Teams periodically change their ballparks to make them more hitter-friendly or pitcher-friendly. These are done openly. They are not scandals. They might be debated, but they are widely acknowledged to be within the league’s or the team’s purview.

The ball is, too. The Rockies, and soon the Diamondbacks, put their baseballs in a humidor to make them not travel as far. Now, imagine if they did this without telling us. Imagine if the league were systematically doctoring baseballs to affect how many home runs were hit. Imagine further if only certain teams in certain ballparks were doing this. It’d be quite the exotic conspiracy theory. You’d sound insane trying to convince somebody it was happening, and you’d have a scandal somewhere south of the steroids era but north of Deflategate if it were found out. But the humidor can’t get “found out,” because it’s not a secret. It’s right there. There are press releases. We all know, we accept it and we forget even what a fundamentally weird thing it is to store baseballs in a humidor to make them travel not as far.

Two years ago, the NCAA “juiced” its baseball. After new bat regulations deadened offense in the college game, the NCAA introduced baseballs with flatter seams, which travel farther. It worked. People liked the NCAA manipulating the equipment to maintain an equilibrium between offense and defense. There was no secret, and there was no scandal.

I no longer think that MLB has juiced the baseball; it’s possible, but less than likely. By the time I saw Slide 16 in Nathan’s presentation, a year’s worth of circumstantial evidence had been pointing to a juiced baseball. But in the year since, the circumstantial evidence has been going the other way.

MLB has not completely silenced the conspiracy theories because it is still keeping some of its data private. Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsIt started with Slide 17, in fact, which showed that exit velocities on fly balls and grounders had gone up sharply but that line drives, mysteriously, had not — they were being hit only as hard as they had been the year before. The conference presentation that immediately followed Nathan’s, by Brian Mills, suggested that subtle changes in the strike zone could be driving the increase in home runs. (Mills, a brilliant academic, later adapted the presentation for an article at the Hardball Times.)

There’s more. This year, fly ball exit velocities are up even more, from an average of 89.7 mph at this time last year to 91.5 mph this year. The average fly ball travels 10 feet farther this year, from 305 feet last year to 315 feet this year. Did MLB juice the ball even more, after everybody started whispering about it?

Probably not. Neither ground balls nor line drives have seen an increase, according to publicly reported Statcast data. In fact, line drives are being hit much less hard this year — about 93 mph, down from almost 99 mph at this point last year. While it’s hard to say conclusively, because the Statcast system does not successfully measure every batted ball and the system has in the past shown some measurement error, these trends suggests two things: 1) Batters are hitting more home runs because they’re hitting fly balls harder; 2) but they’re not hitting line drives (or even ground balls) harder. Taken together, these suggest that a change in approach, by hitters and/or pitchers, might be driving the home run spikes. They suggest that hitters are able to increase their hard-fly rate while perhaps sacrificing other hard-hit balls.

(This is not a totally satisfying hypothesis, but at this point none are.)

On Monday, though, we got the most convincing evidence against the juiced ball theory. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh reviewed and reported the results of the league’s “extensive testing” of its baseballs.

“The report is an 11-page document that summarizes the results of testing conducted in July 2016 and February 2017 by the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which has overseen MLB’s ball testing since the late 1990s (separate from additional testing by baseball manufacturer Rawlings),” Lindbergh wrote.

“The report says that all of the baseballs were not only well within the limits of MLB’s fairly broad manufacturing specifications, but also ‘comparable in weight, circumference and COR to previous compliance data,’ an assertion supported by plots of average values and 95 percent confidence intervals for each of the previous testing periods.”

The league had previously cited these reports but never shared them. Now, finally, we could see that they existed and said what the league had claimed they said. Not only that, but last summer the league brought Nathan aboard to review the research.

“Quite frankly, I was disappointed at that result, because I was hoping I’d find something,” Nathan told Lindbergh.

As a condition of getting the reports, Lindbergh had to agree not to release them; he was only able to describe, summarize and quote selectively from them. Major League Baseball has a “non-smoking gun,” in Lindbergh’s words, yet remains oddly secretive about it. It’s a pretty good strategy if their goal is to ensure that there will continue to be conspiracy theories alleging sinister interventions by the league office.

There’s a pretty good case that it’s in the best interests of baseball to manipulate the ball to add or subtract offense. It’s broadly agreed that low-offense eras are bad for baseball’s business — hence the conspiracist’s easy belief that Major League Baseball would engineer more hitting. It might also be hypothesized that too many home runs make for a more static game, as pitchers are forced to nibble and resulting increases in walks and strikeouts create a sort of feedback loop. Furthermore, it’s a popular, romantic notion that baseball stars can be compared across eras, and the more the game’s offensive environment changes from one decade to the next, the more ambiguous and the less satisfying these comparisons are. The commissioner should consider tweaking the composition of the ball to counteract the other dominant forces of each era.

Now, there is also a case that the league should leave the ball mostly alone. As it is, the commissioner’s office is mostly free from blame when offense goes up or down, but if it took an active role in changing the baseball it might be stuck “owning” every swing in the offensive environment. The imprecision of baseball construction — there can be a lot of variation from batch to batch, and small variations can make a big difference — might open the league up to all sorts of unintended consequences. As Lindbergh told me by email Wednesday, “As intensely as a small subset of analysts pays (and draws) attention to changes in the game, a rising home run rate isn’t something most fans would fixate on unless you gave them a reason to. Tell them that the ball is different, and they might decide that they don’t like things this way and blame MLB for tampering with a game that they love, especially since statistics and adherence to tradition are a big part of baseball’s appeal.”

It might also be something the league would have to collectively bargain. (Two labor lawyers I talked to were both able to argue that juicing the ball would and wouldn’t be subject to collective bargaining.) But it’s a certainty that the league would have to deal with unhappy players — roughly half of them every year, depending on which way offense was going. Perhaps the league is best served asserting its non-scandalous right to change the baseball but leave it mostly untouched.

In which case it can still take the issue out of the shadows. Letting Lindbergh see the results of its studies was an obvious, positive first step. The next is to release these studies fully as a matter of routine business.

“Based on background conversations I’ve had with league officials, regularly releasing ball-testing results is something they’ve considered,” Lindbergh told me. “If they start doing that, though, they’d have to keep doing it, because it would be suspicious if they stopped. And even if they haven’t tampered with the baseball this time, they might decide to do so at some point.”

Keith Law’s 2017 Mock Draft 1.0: Will a high schooler make history?

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To quote a national crosschecker I spoke to while assembling this mock: “There are a few picks that seem very strongly tied to teams, but after that, a ton of smoke.”

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Another front-office guy whose team picks in the top 10 said his team still has 20 names under consideration for that pick. As such, I take some solace in knowing that, although I don’t know who’s going to be taken where, nobody else knows either.

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• Did Vandy’s Kyle Wright just save his draft slot?

Limited Stefen Romero Jersey • Will upside make Hunter Greene the top pick on draft day?

Stefen Romero Jersey #17 • Complete 2017 draft coverage

There are really just two candidates to go first overall at this point, excluding some rumored way-under-slot names such as Pavin Smith. Brendan McKay is a true two-way talent from Louisville who could go out at first base or as a left-handed starter. Hunter Greene is also a two-way player, but his future is almost certainly on the mound, and he has a ceiling for the ages. If McKay doesn’t go first, he goes second. If Greene doesn’t go second (or first), he goes third. If Royce Lewis doesn’t go third, he goes no lower than fifth. If Mackenzie Gore doesn’t go fifth, I think he goes sixth.

But at that point, it starts to get fuzzy. I’ve heard Shane Baz with Philadelphia a few times. The same with Jordon Adell and the Angels. I’m also pretty sure I’ve heard 12 players identified as “definitely going in the top 10,” which I believe would require some sort of non-Euclidean draft math.

Some of these names are more strongly attached to their teams than others. Some are entirely speculative at this point because it’s too early, with most teams not having regional meetings with their area scouts until this week or, for more teams, next week. Also, bear in mind that I’m not assuming anything about signability here; any team might choose to sign a second-round talent, a college senior or a fourth-year junior to save money on that pick and go overslot on later picks. None of the 27 names I’ve assigned to teams would fit that description.

This is my first projection of all of the picks for the first round — 27 picks, as three teams surrendered theirs to sign free agents — of the 2017 Rule 4 draft, to be held June 12-14.

This is based on the best information I could get about team preferences for specific players or player categories, as well as knowledge of teams’ general strategies for their first picks in the draft. This is not, however, a ranking of players by ability or what I view as their likely major league value.


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Like Michael Jordan’s No. 23, Derek Jeter’s No. 2 lives on in his sport

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The New York Yankees Jersey will retire Derek Jeter’s No. 2 on Sunday, but his legacy will continue on the backs of ballplayers across the major leagues.

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Of the 21 players who currently wear No. 2, nearly half wear it for Jeter.

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Swanson was given No. 2 as a rookie, but he has since changed to No. 7 to honor his Vanderbilt roots — that was the number he wore when the Commodores won the 2014 College World Series. Swanson, like so many players, grew up admiring Jeter because of the respect he showed for the game, his clutch performances and his ability to stay out of trouble. For many, this has made No. 2 a symbol for doing things the right way.

Limited Boog Powell Jersey Forever No. 2The Yankees will retire Derek Jeter’s number Sunday. Here’s more information on the team’s tribute to No. 2.

Boog Powell Jersey #40 Watch: ESPN

Time: The jersey retirement ceremony will begin at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET. The game is slated for 7:30.


At the beginning of spring training this year, every other AL East team’s shortstop wore No. 2 — except for Tampa Bay’s. But the Rays’ Nick Franklin Jersey, who had the number, was a shortstop before being moved off the position. And while he was released right before Opening Day and is now in Milwaukee, he’s still wearing No. 2 — and has a pit bull named Jeter.

Toronto’s Troy Tulowitzki Jersey and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts Jersey might be the two most well-known members of the Jeter Fan Club, having professed their fondness for the Yankees captain for years, while Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy Jersey, who was assigned No. 2 when he joined the Orioles in 2011, said Jeter was his favorite player in high school.

Someone who nearly wasn’t a No. 2? Derek Jeter himself. The Captain was more interested in 13, the number his father, Charles, wore while he was a shortstop at Fisk University. When Jeter arrived in the Bronx in 1995, catcher Jim Leyritz wore No. 13. Jeter took No. 2 and wore it when he won his first title in 1996. But when he came to camp in 1997, he was handed No. 17.

“I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,’ ” Jeter recalled in an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech. ” ‘You know, I do want No. 2.’ So, I think if you go back to the program in 1997 spring training, I was listed at No. 17.”

Sunday night, the Yankees will become the fourth team to retire the No. 2. The Dodgers (Tommy Lasorda), the White Sox (Nellie Fox) and the Tigers (Charlie Gehringer) have already taken the number out of circulation. Currently, there are five teams who don’t have anyone wearing No. 2. That leaves 21 clubs.

Of those 21, there are 10 players on their 40-man rosters who wear No. 2 as some sort of an homage to Jeter.

Not surprisingly, seven of those 10 play his old position. The Angels’ Andrelton Simmons Jersey didn’t get to wear No. 2 in Atlanta but grabbed it with his current team because of Jeter.

“Derek Jeter is one of the prime examples of how you want any kid growing up to be, just to take the good habits that he had. He has been a huge role model.”

Xander Bogaerts JerseyThe Reds’ Zack Cozart Jersey wanted No. 1, but that’s retired for manager Fred Hutchinson. so he chose No. 2, with Jeter in mind. The Royals’ Alcides Escobar Jersey said he picked the number for the usual reason — he loved how Jeter played the game.

The Mets’ Gavin Cecchini is not currently in the majors, but when he was the team’s No. 1 pick in 2012 he called Jeter his favorite player. Cecchini is listed with the No. 2 on the Mets’ 40-man roster.

Twins second baseman Brian Dozier Jersey, who was a shortstop as a rookie in 2012, wears No. 2 and a sweatband on his left arm, just like Jeter did. Astros third baseman, Alex Bregman, has No. 2 on his back because of Jeter, and as a reminder that he was the second pick behind Swanson in the 2015 draft.

If there are two players who most represent No. 2 as baseball’s version of Jordan’s No. 23, it is Bogaerts, on the Yankees’ archrival Red Sox, and Tulowitzki. They’re arguably the most devoted Jeter-ites currently in the game.

When Bogaerts was growing up in Curacao, he loved watching Jeter play in Yankees-Red Sox games.

“Derek Jeter is one of the prime examples of how you want any kid growing up to be, just to take the good habits that he had,” Bogaerts said. “He has been a huge role model.”

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Bogaerts picked the number because of Jeter and teammate Hanley Ramirez Jersey, himself a former shortstop who once wore No. 2 in honor of Jeter. When he finally played against Jeter, Bogaerts says he didn’t get too much time to talk with him. But, like he did with a lot of players, Jeter made a point to offer a word of encouragement when he reached second base.

“That was one of the things he always did,” Bogaerts said. “He told me, ‘Keep working hard. You are a good player.’ ”

Jeter didn’t just offer platitudes but delivered personal messages as well. With Bogaerts, he would joke about listening to coach Brian Butterfield, who’s now with the Red Sox but had been a big help to Jeter while with the Yankees.

In Toronto, Tulowitzki’s love for Jeter is well documented. Growing up in the Bay Area, it was easy for Tulowitzki to stay up and watch Yankees playoff games until the very end. He reveled in Jeter’s clutch performances, though as an A’s fan, he says “The Flip” play — Jeter’s famous play from the 2001 ALDS — stung.

Tulowitzki would attend games at the Oakland Coliseum and study No. 2 during pregame warm-ups.

“I just tried to take a lot out of his game and apply [it] to my own,” Tulowitzki said.

When Tulowitzki was in Colorado, he got a chance to meet Jeter. At the time, Jeter had his own brand of cologne, which Tulowitzki’s teammates bought him, imploring him to splash it on before he met his idol. Tulo introduced himself, sans fragrance.

To this day, Tulowitzki wears the number in appreciation of Jeter, just like so many others in the majors. For the man known as 2-lo, it’s about paying tribute to one of the all-time greats.

“That’s a great way for players to pay respect to guys,” Tulowitzki said, “and show they know the history of the game a little bit, and they respect it.”