Notes on deadening the ball, Camden Yards game times and more

After watching a record 6.776 homers leave ballparks during the 2019 season, Major League Baseball officials are taking an action that could produce fewer longballs this year. According to sources cited by several outlets, MLB will slightly deaden the baseballs for the 2021 season.

According to an Associated Press report, MLB anticipates the changes will be subtle, and a memo to teams last week cites an independent lab that found the new balls will fly one to two feet shorter on balls hit over 375 feet. Five more teams also plan to add humidors to their stadiums, meaning 10 of MLB’s 30 stadiums are expected to be equipped with humidity-controlled storage spaces.

The AP report noted that the rate of home runs fell only slightly during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season - from 6.6 percent of plate appearances resulting in homers in 2019 to 6.5 percent last year. A four-person committee of scientists commissioned by MLB concluded after the 2019 season that baseballs had less drag on average than in previous seasons, contributing to the power surge. Their report blamed the spike in part on inconsistencies in seam height.

The MLB balls are hand-sewn in Costa Rica, which can lead to deviations and inconsistencies in the balls.

One analyst interviewed by The Athletic projected a 5 percent reduction in homers this year and noted it could be like adding five feet to every outfield wall in the majors.

Such a difference may not even be noticeable by most observers. But the game has shown a willingness to get more action into a sport that has been increasingly reliant on homers in recent seasons. At the same time, the heavy pitcher usage of data and analytics has led to an increase in strikeouts. The combo of balls that either go over the fence or not into play at all have meant a decrease in action.

Thumbnail image for Baseballs-at-Camden-Yards-Workout-Sidebar.jpgFirst pitch times are set: We now know the game times for most of the Orioles’ scheduled 162 games for the 2021 season. Monday through Thursday home night games in April and May at Camden Yards will be at 6:35 p.m. The same will be true in September, with one exception. The Yankees-Orioles game on Thursday, Sept. 16 will start at 5:05 p.m. Most Friday and Saturday home games will begin at 7:05 p.m. but there will be a few Saturday games in the summer beginning at 4:05 p.m. The Sunday home games will start at 1:05 p.m.

The O’s will open the year at Boston’s Fenway Park on Thursday, April 1 at 2:10 p.m. After a six-game trip to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, the home opener is Thursday, April 8 at 3:05 p.m. versus Boston.

The Orioles will play a few home weekday games during the day with some as series and/or homestand closing games. For instance, they host Seattle on Thursday April 15 at 1:05 p.m. to wrap up a series and the first homestand. The second homestand ends Thursday April 29 at 1:05 p.m. against the Yankees.

We don’t yet know if fans will be allowed into games at Oriole Park. We await further word and will gladly pass that along when we get it.

This deal was curious: If an outfielder with a decent track record was changing clubs in a deal for prospects between the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals, most of the time we would assume the Royals would be getting the prospects and Boston the established player. But that happened in reverse this week when outfielder Andrew Benintendi went from Boston to Kansas City in a three-team trade also involving the New York Mets.

Boston, which finished in last place, one game behind the Orioles in 2020, is getting two prospects in the deal and three players to be named later. Benintendi is due $6.6 million in 2021 and Boston will pay $2.8 million of that.

In 2018, Benintendi looked like a perennial All-Star when he hit .290/.366/.465 with an .830 OPS that produced an OPS+ of 123, or 23 percent above league average. But he fell to a league-average player on the stat sheet in 2019 and hit just .103 in 14 games last year when he suffered a season-ending rib injury.

When New York’s Aaron Judge was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2017, Benintendi finished second in the voting and Trey Mancini of the Orioles finished third. While Judge was a unanimous winner, Benintendi got 23 second-place votes to just five for Mancini. But Mancini posted an OPS that year of .826 with 24 homers and 78 RBIs. Benintendi, who brings more defensive value, posted an OPS of .776 with 20 homers and 90 RBIs.

Benintendi was the No. 7 overall player taken in the first round of the 2015 draft. Mancini was taken in the eighth round of 2013, No. 249 overall. Benintendi was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 15 prospect in its 2016 top 100 prospects list. A year later, he was ranked No. 1. Benintendi topped everyone in 2017 with a hit tool grade of 70 and 60 power.

Mancini was never ranked in a top 100, was not close to being a first-round draft pick and never was given a 70 for his hit tool - and I don’t think he got a 60 for power either, although maybe he did from some service at one point. Maybe that hurt him a bit in that Rookie of the Year vote in 2017.

But in 2104 career plate appearances, Benintendi has a .789 OPS for an OPS+ of 107. The much less heralded Mancini, in 1,966 plate appearances, has an OPS of .819 and OPS+ of 119.

But O’s pitchers will probably be OK with Benintendi leaving the division. In 55 career games against the Orioles, he hit .285/.375/.483/.858 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs. He seemed to come up big often versus the Orioles.

Another top 100: Another top 100 prospects list is out - this one via ESPN (subscription may be required). It includes four Orioles prospects. Adley Rutschman is ranked No. 2, with Grayson Rodriguez No. 30, Ryan Mountcastle No. 93 and DL Hall No. 97. This was the lowest ranking in a major publication for Hall, who was tabbed at No. 49 by The Athletic, No. 59 via Baseball America and No. 70 by MLBPipeline.com.

The O’s placed five in the Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com top 100 lists. They had four players ranked by The Athletic and ESPN. Mountcastle did not make The Athletic list and Heston Kjerstad was not rated by ESPN.

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