Dr. Meredith Wills has been tracking baseballs for several years now. She’s proven that the baseballs used in MLB (and manufactured by Rawlings, partly owned by MLB) are not consistent. You can read Chapter 1 of The Science of Baseball for more details, but she also showed that things didn’t get better in 2022. There were three balls and issues with all of them.
Heading into 2023, the Lords of Baseball have shown no instinct to stop screwing around. Pitch clocks, big bases, and shift restrictions, all at once, are going to change the game in fundamental ways, but will it matter? Others have shown that bases and shifts will mean, likely, minor changes in action, in terms of more running and more hits. The pitch clock is at least speeding things up, but at what cost to pitchers and the game?
My worry is that the Lords will see a game that hasn’t changed enough and start messing with the ball again. Dr. Wills tells me that the manufacturing methods, largely the same as were done back in World War II, make it tough to make those kinds of changes, but it’s one that’s practically difficult, but theoretically possible. Let’s say someone sees Kodai Senga put 40 inches of movement on a ghost fork and says “get those seams down!”
With the WBC going on - under old rules! - things are going to get lost a bit in spring training, as it should be. What I’m curious about is whether the once-conservative Lords will see even more ways to “adjust”. If chicks still dig the long ball, making it tougher for these triple-digit, fall-off-the-table, pitch-designed monsters to give up hits is to adjust the seams, when the better way would be to thin the pitching herd with expansion. That’s always worked.
For now, on to the injuries:
BRYCE HARPER, DH PHI (sprained elbow/rehab)
Bryce Harper had a talk with the media after his late (excused) arrival to Phillies camp. His off-season Tommy John surgery has gone to plan, but that didn’t stop Harper from speculating (or leaking) that a quicker return might be on the table if he doesn’t throw. Just as he was kept available last year by not throwing, there’s long been speculation (and here, me outright telling you) that he could return before mid-season if only in a DH role.
Now, the speculation that he wouldn’t play in the field all year seems more like Harper’s conversion to the idea of DHing. By mid-season, the elbow will likely be healthy enough to play the field and given the poor defense of Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, there’s reason to have Harper out there. There’s no reason to think his plus arm won’t be at least good post-surgery. We’ll see how that plays out.
At the plate, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t return much sooner or even very soon. The UCL isn’t stressed by a normal swing so just as he played with a damaged UCL for much of last season, he’s very unlikely to have a setback by just swinging a bat. There’s good reason to be careful with him, but there’s not a good reason to glass case one of the best hitters in the game, especially on a contending team. My expectation is that he’ll be back in May, and that from the hitting side, he’ll be normal. He’s begun hitting off a tee this week, so we’ll get indications of progress as he moves through the rehab.
100 games, 110? That’s enough to put up some nice numbers and don’t forget that both he and Mike Trout are starting to look at where they line up with Hall of Fame numbers. He’s probably over 300 without the pandemic and without the elbow injury last year, so pushing 30 a year over the length of his Phillies contract puts him in range of 600 and immortality.
CARLOS RODON, SP NYY (strained forearm)