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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider


Every indication is that Marcus Stroman will come out of the all-star break healthy and able to take the mound on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

That being said, I reiterate my view that his next start should be his last as a member of the Blue Jays. All he needs to do is prove that he’s healthy and throwing well. Once he proves that to interested clubs, the Jays should make their deal. They can’t risk another injury or underperformance. They’ve rebuilt Stroman’s value and can’t let it slip away.

There is no better place for Stroman to make a statement than at Yankee Stadium. He wants the Yankees to want him. A dominating outing could certainly help in that regard. It could also raise the interest of other playoff contenders because the road to the World Series may go through New York. Having a pitcher on the roster who has shut the Yankees down in their home park would be a big confidence boost heading into October.

It also makes sense for the Jays to make their deal with Stroman before the Indians make starting pitcher Trevor Bauer available. For now, there is only speculation that Cleveland is listening on Bauer.

The Jays need to force a sense of urgency and control the market while there is less supply. It makes Stroman more valuable. Clubs in need of a starter can’t miss out on Stroman and Madison Bumgarner while waiting to see if Bauer becomes available.

There’s also a chance the Mets might move starting pitchers Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard if the team doesn’t get off to a good start after the break, which would further clutter the market. 


Vladdy is going to get even better

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his coming-out party in Cleveland at the Home Run Derby on Monday night. He absolutely owned the event. Even though he didn’t win, it will forever be known as the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Home Run Derby.

It didn’t matter that Guerrero was the youngest participant ever. He made a statement with 29 first-round homers, the most ever in a round. He showed his talent and competitiveness in the second round by putting up another 29 home runs, only to have Dodgers slugger Joc Pederson tie him. The two of them went three more rounds before Guerrero finally prevailed 40-39 in a remarkable battle. 

Guerrero went on to lose to Mets first baseman Pete Alonso in the final by a score of 23-22, but he was the big winner. He was the player people wanted to talk about.

I expect that the event will have a lingering effect on the young third baseman.  He experienced what trying to create launch angle feels like as he lifted so many balls over the outfield wall. I expect him to try to hit the ball in the air more regularly in the second half.

Guerrero Jr.’s launch angle is just 6.3 degrees, which is half of the average big leaguer (12.6 degrees). Even a small adjustment could lead to creating more backspin on the baseball at contact and therefore more home runs with his power and exit velocity.

Yes, Guerrero is going to get even better at the plate.


The great juiced ball debate

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander, who leads all of baseball in home runs allowed this season with 26, was quite vocal in Cleveland this week about the baseballs being “juiced.”

He was extremely aggressive in his criticisms, effectively accusing commissioner Rob Manfred of intentionally directing changes in the manufacturing of the balls.

"It's a f---ing joke. Major League Baseball is turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you've got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill,” Verlander told ESPN.

“They own the f---ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what'd he say? He said we want more offence. All of a sudden, he comes in, the balls are juiced? It's not coincidence. We're not idiots.”

In his defence, the commissioner acknowledged the league’s own testing has shown that the balls are different and have less drag this year, leading in some part to the increase in home runs. Manfred said pitchers have told him the balls feel differently in their hands than in the past, but he adamantly denied directing any changes in production.

“Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” Manfred said. “The biggest flaw in that logic is that baseball somehow wants more home runs. If you sat in an owners’ meeting and listened to people talk about the way our game is being played, that is not the sentiment among the owners for whom I work. There is no desire on the part of ownership to increase the number of home runs in the game. To the contrary, they’re concerned about how many we have.”

The yet undetected change in the manufacturing of the baseballs, which are handmade, is clearly part of the reason more balls are sailing out of parks than ever before. We are on pace to better the record-setting 2017 season (6,105) by more than 500 homers.

There are other legitimate reasons why there are more home runs. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, adding to the potential energy at contact. Hitters now try to hit the bottom of the baseball to create backspin and lift the ball in the air.

The average launch angle in 2015 was 10.5 degrees, compared to 12.6 degrees in 2019. This change in approach by hitters has caused pitchers to adjust the location of many of their pitches. Pitchers now try to pitch more at the top of the strike zone because the uppercut caused by the increased launch angle of hitters creates a hole in the swing that can be exploited. But when a batter does catch up to the pitch up in the zone there is a better chance for a home run.

There’s no doubt that baseballs are traveling further than ever before but the changes in the baseball only account for a part of the reason.

I think Verlander doth protest too much. He’s looking to explain the 26 homers he has allowed this year with his complaints. Somebody should let him know he’s using the same baseballs as Mike Soroka of the Braves.

Soroka, a rookie from Calgary, is 9-1 with a 2.42 ERA. He was Atlanta’s first-round selection in 2015 and a former member of the Canadian Junior team. Soroka has allowed just four solo homers in 15 starts and 89.1 innings pitched. So, there are some pitchers who are able to keep the “juiced” balls in the ballpark.

Spitting Seeds

- This is a pitching-rich trade market as the deadline approaches. There is depth in both starters and bullpen arms. Here are five starters who will likely join Stroman on the market:

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians (8-6, 3.61 ERA): It makes no sense to me that the Indians, currently sitting a wild-card spot, would trade an ace but there is enough chatter out there to make me believe it’s possible. The Indians need to add offence, particularly in their outfield, so they may rob Peter (pitching depth) to pay Paul (offence) and hope it works. Bauer is a bit quirky but he has great stuff.  He walks more hitters than he should but he gets strikeouts when he needs them.  If moved, he is the best pitcher who will be traded. He has one more season of control before free agency. 

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (5-7, 4.03 ERA): His stuff has diminished over the past couple of years due to injuries, but it has taken an uptick this year. He has a tremendous postseason pedigree, which is desirable. He has an eight-team no-trade list: Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees. It doesn’t mean he can’t go to any of those teams, as many would have interest. It means they may have to pay him an assignment bonus to get him to accept a trade. He will be a free agent after the season.

Matt Boyd, Detroit Tigers (6-6, 3.87 ERA): Boyd is just 28 and is blossoming this season. He has the lowest ERA of his career and 142 strikeouts in 107 innings.  The lefty has swing-and-miss stuff and has finally figured out how to use it. The most attractive thing about Boyd is that he has three years of club control remaining after this season. The Yankees, Brewers, Braves and Twins have all been linked to him.

Zack Wheeler-New York Mets (6-6, 4.69 ERA):  Wheeler had a breakout 2018 but has struggled some in 2019. He has as good of stuff as any pitcher available, but hasn’t been as effective as he should be. Some numbers indicate that he has been better than his ERA indicates, but there is some risk. Teams may take a shot on him because of the quality of his stuff, thinking they can tweak him and fix him. The Yankees, Red Sox and Brewers have been most closely tied to him. Wheeler is a free agent after this season.

Andrew Cashner, Baltimore Orioles (9-3, 3.83 ERA): He is thriving on a really bad team. He doesn’t get many strikeouts, with only has 66 in 96.1 innings pitched this season. Some of the advanced metrics indicate he has had some good fortune, which has lifted his overall stats. Cashner has said he isn’t sure he would accept going to a new team if he’s traded, which might scare away some clubs.  Why would a pitcher want to stay on a horrible team with no expectations? That’s not the kind of mentality you want on the mound in a big playoff game. Clubs will have to talk to him to make sure he will report in the right frame of mind before any deal is finalized. He has a vesting option for 2020.