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Remember when 2016 was the new Year of the Homer, featuring the second-highest home run rate in MLB history and supplanting 1987 in terms of unexpectedness? Well, 2017 laughed at that notion and bumped the homer rate by another 10 percent, setting a new record of 1.26 home runs per team per game. So now the question is whether 2018 will surpass even last year’s “Year of the Homer 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

The most maddening aspect of guessing where offense is going in baseball is the why. A 25 percent increase in homers over a two-year period is stunning. A similar change occurred from 1992 to 1994, and even a quarter of a century later, that shift is largely unexplained. League expansion isn’t enough to account for that change, and one of the pop-science explanations — performance-enhancing drugs — would necessitate everybody discovering the benefits of PEDs in an 18-month period, because the home run rate stayed flat for most of the next decade. With no expansion teams, as well as drug testing since 2004, even those hole-filled theories aren’t available to explain the latest home run boost.

One possible theory is that the baseballs are constructed differently, something commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball have denied, though without actually providing any rebuttal to what researchers have found. One thing will be different this year: MLB has announced that all baseballs will be stored in air-conditioned rooms in 2018, to help determine if they should subsequently be stored in humidors in 2019 to standardize the temperature and humidity they’re kept in across the game. In theory, this change could ultimately result in lower exit velocities for a hit baseball; harder-hit baseballs are more likely to be home runs.

So one question that brings up is what effect this would have on the results, for both players and teams. Projections are made with certain assumptions for levels of offense around the league, and organizations are aware of those assumptions as they construct their teams. But what happens if we turn back the clock and the level of offense is more like 2015 than 2016-2017? To answer this question, I went back and ran my 2018 projections at 2015’s level of offense and looked for the largest differences. I also used playing time generated from estimated playing time based on current rosters, rather than the straight-up ZiPS projections (ZiPS is agnostic on which minor leaguers will play).

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Davey Johnson hospitalized with COVID-19, former New York Mets spokesman says

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Former New York Mets manager Davey Johnson is in a Florida hospital with COVID-19, according to former Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz.

Horwitz said he spoke with Johnson briefly on Friday.

Johnson, 77, was a four-time All-Star second baseman and managed the Mets to their most recent World Series title in 1986.

He played for Baltimore (1965-72), Atlanta (1973-75), Yomiuri (1976), Philadelphia (1977-78) and the Chicago Cubs (1978), winning a World Series title in 1970 and making the final out of the Orioles’ 1969 Series loss to the Mets. He hit .261 with 136 homers and 609 RBIs, getting picked for All-Star teams from 1968 to ’70 and again in 1973.

Johnson managed the Mets (1985-90), Cincinnati (1993-95), Baltimore (1996-97), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2000) and Washington (2011-13), leading his teams to a 1,372-1,071 record and six first-place finishes. He also managed the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics and fourth place at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.



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Hank Aaron was one of the five best MLB players ever

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So much of Henry Aaron’s baseball legacy is attached to three numbers — 715, 755 and whatever Barry Bonds’ career home run total ended up at — that we too often overlook his all-around brilliance on the field. Put it this way: If you turned his 755 home runs into outs, he still finished with more than 3,000 hits. Or another way: He played 23 major league seasons and was a 25-time All-Star (there were multiple All-Star Games early in Aaron’s career).

Even though he is widely regarded as one of the top five players in MLB history, Aaron has remained underrated among the all-time greats. He played most of his career in the shadow of Willie Mays, his contemporary who was the more visually breathtaking player thanks to Mays’ defense in center field. Many still consider Babe Ruth the greatest right fielder. So Aaron ranks merely as the second-best player of his generation and the second-best right fielder of all time.

When experts and fans talk about the best hitters in the game’s history, they usually talk about Ruth and Ted Williams and Bonds, or even singles hitters like Tony Gwynn, before Aaron’s name comes up. No player, however, played with such sustained, consistent excellence for so long as Aaron.

Showing up every day isn’t glamorous, but it’s one way you topple Ruth and hit 755 home runs. As a rookie with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, Henry Aaron fractured his ankle in early September, ending his season at 122 games. Maybe he wasn’t quite Cal Ripken as an Ironman, but Aaron didn’t miss many more games after that. From 1955 to 1968, he played 2,157 out of a possible 2,214 games, missing an average of just 4.1 games per season. In 1969 and 1970, then 35 and 36 years old, he fell all the way down to 147 and 150 games.

Along the way, he never had even a single bad season. His only MVP award came in 1957, but Aaron finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting 13 times during an era in which the National League was packed with future Hall of Famers vying for the award and finished in the top three in three different decades. Here’s one way to look at his high level of play for nearly two decades:

Most 6-WAR seasons
Aaron 16
Bonds 16
Mays 15
Ruth 14
Tris Speaker 14

Most 7-WAR seasons
Bonds 14
Aaron 13
Mays 13
Ruth 12
Lou Gehrig 11

Mays is right up there with Aaron, but even Mays faded in his late 30s. Mays’ last 30-homer season came at age 35 in 1966. From age 36 on, he hit 118 home runs. Aaron hit a career-high 47 home runs at age 37, and from age 36 on he hit 201 home runs.

That’s another testament to Aaron’s consistency. Forty-seven other players have hit at least 47 home runs in a season — 15 of them more than once — but Aaron is still second all-time in home runs. Since he finished his career in 1976, four players have hit more home runs through age 30 than Aaron. None of them could keep it going in their 30s:

Up to age 30
Alex Rodriguez: 464 HR, 85.0 WAR
Ken Griffey Jr.: 438 HR, 76.2 WAR
Albert Pujols: 408 HR, 81.4 WAR
Andruw Jones: 368 HR, 61.0 WAR
Henry Aaron: 366 HR, 80.7 WAR

After age 30
Rodriguez: 232 HR, 32.5 WAR
Griffey: 192 HR, 7.6 WAR
Pujols: 254 HR, 19.4 WAR
Jones: 66 HR, 1.7 WAR
Aaron: 389 HR, 62.4 WAR

In 1955, in his second season in the majors, at just 21 years old, Aaron hit .314 with 27 homers, 105 runs and 106 RBIs, his first great season. In 1973, at 39 years old, he hit .301 with 40 home runs — in just 120 games. But Aaron wasn’t just a slugger. He finished with a .305 career average, hitting .300 14 times, even though many of his peak seasons came in the 1960s, in the most difficult hitting conditions since the dead-ball era. In an interview with MLB Network just last month, Aaron said the thing he was most proud of was that “I didn’t strike out.”

Indeed, he never struck out 100 times in a season and finished with more walks than strikeouts. Keep in mind that Ruth, playing in an era with far fewer strikeouts than even Aaron’s era, led his league five times in strikeouts. Ruth fanned in 12.5% of his plate appearances, Aaron in just 9.9% of his. Maybe that’s why Aaron was such a good clutch hitter and RBI guy. He hit .324 in his career with runners in scoring position, and in “late and close” situations when the game is most on the line, he hit .318/.407/.576 — better than his overall line of .305/.374/.555.

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Tim Kurkjian remembers the impact of Hank Aaron, which extended far beyond the baseball diamond.

Bonds might have passed Aaron on the home run list, but Aaron is still the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases. Using the unofficial list at Baseball-Reference.com (RBIs are considered official only since 1920), Aaron’s 2,297 outpace Ruth’s 2,214. Pujols stands at 2,100, but 2021 will likely be his last season.

Years ago, Aaron stepped into the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth. At one point, there was a runner on second base with no outs. Joe Morgan asked Aaron how often he tried to move the runner along to third — expecting, perhaps, Aaron to say he played the game the “right way” and hit the ball to the right side. Aaron let out a big, hearty laugh. “Never,” he said. “I always tried to knock the guy in.”

The total bases record might be even more unbreakable. Aaron has 6,856 — well ahead of Stan Musial’s 6,134. If another player came along and replicated Musial’s numbers, he would still need to hit 181 home runs to break Aaron’s record.

More tributes: Eternal connection to Black baseball | BBTN podcast

Aaron wasn’t just a dominant hitter, but also an outstanding fielder and baserunner. He won three Gold Gloves, and while fielding metrics from his era are informed estimates, Baseball-Reference rates him ninth among right fielders in runs saved at plus-98 for his career. He stole 240 bases with an excellent success rate, and when he hit 44 home runs and stole 31 bases in 1963, he became just the third player to go 30-30 in the same season (after Ken Williams and Mays). Joe Torre, his longtime teammate with the Braves, said he never saw Aaron make a mistake on the field. To top it off, while he appeared in just three postseasons (the 1957 and 1958 World Series and 1969 National League Championship Series), he hit .362/.405/.710 with six home runs in 17 games.

He’s fifth all-time among position players in career WAR:

Bonds: 162.8
Ruth: 162.1
Mays: 156.2
Ty Cobb: 151.0
Aaron: 143.1

You can add Ted Williams to the conversation (121.9 WAR despite missing several prime years due to World War II and the Korean War) — although Williams wasn’t the fielder or baserunner that Bonds, Mays and Aaron were. So, yeah, top five is accurate, probably ahead of Cobb once you make a timeline adjustment, and you can judge what you want to do with Bonds.

What about playing at the same time as Mays? OK. Sure. Mays’ greatness did seem to make Aaron a little underappreciated, even back in their playing days. Not everyone from that time necessarily agreed, however. Here’s a quote from Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor in 1964: “I’ll take Hank Aaron any day over Mays. Give me a guy who’ll go out there and play every game, never get tired, doesn’t complain and won’t faint on you. … You don’t hear much about Hank, yet he’s just as good a fielder, runner and a steadier and better hitter.”

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Washington Nationals re-signing Ryan Zimmerman to one-year, $1M deal, source says

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The Washington Nationals are re-signing Ryan Zimmerman to a one-year, $1 million contract, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Zimmerman opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns about his family’s safety amid the coronavirus pandemic but is set to play his 16th major league season, all with the Nationals.

Zimmerman’s future in Washington had been uncertain after the Nationals acquired Josh Bell to play first base, but general manager Mike Rizzo said last month that the team was open to bringing the 36-year-old back.

Zimmerman batted .257 with six home runs for the 2019 World Series champions.

USA Today first reported on Zimmerman’s return to Washington.

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