Thoughts After London
Photo Courtesy of Frank Augstein/AP
This past weekend was one of the most unique set of regular season games that I’ve ever witnessed the Yankees play. Prior to the London series, I viewed the series with little more than my typical interest in Yankees vs. Red Sox outings, but I think that the series said a lot about the state of both the Yankees and baseball as a whole.
Overall, I think that the London series was a little off, but overall a fun event. I wouldn’t put the viewing experience on plane with a playoff series, but despite some issues, I think that the on-field product was exciting. I’ve got some thoughts about London, and other hot topics in the Yankee Universe here:
Let’s get one thing straight: the ball has been juiced in MLB play for the last couple of years, but I think that the ball was even hotter in London. I had my suspicions during Saturday’s game, but every homer hit was such a bomb, that I wasn’t really sure. By the first inning on Sunday, my instinct tells me that something was up. Xander Bogaerts’ homer off of Tarpley ws hit 100.4 MPH with a launch angle of 24 degrees. In and of itself, those are not odd numbers. That said, you could tell on the broadcast that Bogaerts did not hit the barrel of the bat perfectly, striking the ball off the end of the bat, yet the ball sailed over the fence to the opposite field for a homer. Do not misunderstand me: Bogaerts’ approach on that hit was impressive, but based on the visual quality of contact, that ball should not have been a homer. Whether it was the ball, atmospheric conditions in the stadium, or a little of both, something was amiss at the ballpark.
I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist in talking about the ball used in London, but we already have evidence that the MLB ball has been different the last two years. It would not be outside of the realm of possibility that MLB would try to boost offense for a promotional series used to grow the game in Europe, a mission that is one of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s pet crusades. While any evidence I can offer is anecdotal, I thought it was illuminating to hear some of the pitchers talk about the fact that they were having trouble getting the ball to break properly. Again, they could have just had bad weekends, but when multiple MLB pitchers struggle on consecutive days in that fashion, it makes you wonder.
The umpiring was terrible the entire series. The strike zones were inconsistent at best. I couldn’t help but shake my head when I discovered that MLB gave the London series to Angel Hernandez’s crew. They are consistently among the worst crews in baseball, particularly Hernandez, yet MLB gave the crew this award. I don’t want to say too much more, but I didn’t think it was a good look.
I want to again highlight MLB’s hypocrisy regarding extended netting. Manfred was interviewed by Fox on Saturday, and he both lauded the extended netting used for the game in London, while defending owners who refused to further extend netting in their own ballparks due to cost or construction concerns. I nearly spit out my drink listening to it. I’m sorry – every team can both afford additional netting, nor is it a construction concern. The netting really does not negatively impact fans’ connection to the play on the field, and the netting is essential to protect people. I played good baseball for years, and if I had my head turned, I don’t think that I’d be able to react in time to avoid a 110+ MPH line drive into the RF stands at field level. Do the right thing, MLB: mandate more extended netting.
Our Editor-In-Chief, Dr. Paul Semendinger, offered his thoughts about the series in London, and while I understand and can sympathize with his feelings that the games played weren’t really baseball in the American sense, I still enjoyed the series. Yes, the games took way too long. Yes, something funky was going on with the offense. And yes, there’s something unfair about upsetting the routines of players on both sides to cross the pond for a two game set in-season in the middle of a pennant race. Despite all of that, I enjoyed it immensely. The games were exciting, featuring two heavyweights slugging it out. The fans in attendance were loud and into the game, even despite the length, and I was excited to hear that only 30% of attendees were American citizens. That’s great. I travel internationally a fair amount for my day job, and I can tell you that I’ve personally noticed more Yankee caps in Europe over the last 2 years, and I even found a baseball stadium in Italy (true story!). I think there is definitely potential for growth of the game in Europe, and this series proved it, even with some of the gripes I listed above. Much as I love the Yankees, I love the game more, and I think that this series will help grow the game across the Atlantic.
The implications of the series actually matter from a baseball perspective as well! The Yankees swept the Sox, seemingly putting the AL East out of reach for the Sox, barring a miracle. No matter what I think about a juiced ball, the Yankee offense is scary good with any ball in play. I don’t think an opposing team’s lead is ever safe with this lineup. In the lineups used in London, I think that Urshela was probably the weakest starting hitter in the lineup, and despite the regression he’s going through now, he’s likely an average-ish Major League hitter. It’s going to be a fun summer.
Today is what’s known as the J2 deadline. It’s a corrupt system MLB uses to limit the earnings of young, International Free Agents not subject to the MLB Amateur Draft. I won’t cut too deep into it, but basically, it’s the reason teams have International Bonus Pool Money. Why am I mentioning it? Word on the street is that the Yankees are about to spend the majority of their pool money on one player: Jasson Dominguez, a 5’11’’, 195 pound player who has tools upon tools. Major media outlets are making some outrageous and unfair comparisons (he’s 16!), but he is one of the most hyped J2 prospects ever. Most scouting reports note his potential to play behind the plate, but it is likely he will begin his career in CF to expedite his ascent through the minors. I admit: I’ve never seen a 16 year-old swing a bat like this guy. He’s pretty filled-out physically, but those tools play now in the minors. Check out the video and dream (courtesy of Fangraphs):
There’s no rest for the weary: the Yankees continue a charged stretch of baseball with the Subway Series beginning tonight, and then a series in Tampa at the end of the week. A good few games here, and the Yankees could give themselves a nice cushion heading into the All-Star break. Let’s sit back and get ready for some good baseball.