If you’ve followed the majors this season, you know that one point of contention is about the baseball itself. As we pointed out earlier in the year,— meaning it’s more aerodynamic, permitting longer travel at faster speeds. The result has been a season-long, league-wide home-run derby.
The impact of the juiced ball might be felt most by Triple-A pitchers, as the level switched to the big-league ball this season. Coming into Sunday, the International League had already launched 1,172 home runs this season — they’d hit 1,555 all last eason. On a per-game basis, that’s the difference between 1.26 homers and 0.80. Predictably, teams are scoring substantially more runs per game: from 4.16 last year to 5.26 this year.
To think, the IL is known as the pitcher-friendly league when compared to the Pacific Coast League. Over in the PCL, teams are yielding 5.64 runs per game — as opposed to 4.97 last season. To put it another way, four teams have ERA over 6.00 and just one is under 4.00; in 2018, three teams finished below 4.00 and only one finished above 6.00.
Yet for as wacky as those numbers are, they haven’t necessarily impacted the evaluative process, according to front-office analysts. As one who works for an American League team noted, scouts are supposed to make their judgement independent of statistics — meaning bloated ERA and home-run rates shouldn’t factor into their evaluations. It’s not as though teams are unaccustomed to offensive friendly environments, either.
Besides, there is a potential silver lining for teams when it comes to the juiced ball, as it allows them to see how pitchers who may otherwise go unchallenged respond to adversity. As dumb as it sounds, a pitcher’s ability to fail and move on in a tidy manner is an important part of the equation that doesn’t always reveal itself until it’s too late.
It helps that teams are smart enough to contextualize whatever numbers are being produced in these environments. Hence the Astros bringing up Rogelio Armenteros despite a 5.00 ERA this season in Triple-A — a mark that wouldn’t seem to merit a promotion, except the affiliate as a whole has a 5.42 ERA on the season. Of course, dominating in an offensive-friendly environment doesn’t always mean one will have success at the next level — just ask the Giants Tyler Beede, whose 2.34 ERA in Triple-A hasn’t translated to the majors.
The key, then, for fans looking to evaluate their favorite Triple-A prospect is to keep context in mind. If it seems like they aren’t playing the same game they were at the level in years prior, it’s because they aren’t — not when it comes to the ball, anyway.
Now, onto the Watch.