CLEVELAND – That something has changed in baseball, and probably in the baseballs themselves, is self-evident, Jake Odorizzi says. So the Twins’ All-Star righthander wonders why it’s so difficult for Major League Baseball to admit it.
“Whatever has changed, whatever it may be, that’s perfectly fine. Just say it. Whatever it is, we can adjust,” Odorizzi said. “Whether it’s the same materials [manufactured] a different way, or [spun] tighter, or whatever, there’s no control over it for [the players]. I don’t see why they can’t just say it. It’s not really that big a deal.”
Well, he would get an argument about that last part. The spike in home runs over the past three seasons, and in particular this one — hitters are on pace for 6,668 home runs this year, easily shattering by 9% the previous record of 6,105 hit in 2017 — has created concern throughout the sport about the ball, a controversy Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed in a meeting with baseball writers Tuesday.
“Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” Manfred said. “There is no desire on the part of ownership to increase the number of home runs. To the contrary, [team owners] are concerned about how many we have.”
Odorizzi acknowledged that the frequency of home runs will have a ripple effect across the game, which he said is all the more reason to be transparent about whatever is causing the sudden power surge.
“Numbers still matter in this sport, for multiple reasons. Free agency, arbitration, everything in between. So if there’s something altering that, just come out and say it,” he said. “Pitchers have always adjusted. Hitters adjust. Even now, with the game the way it is today, as players it feels like we’ve already gotten to the point where we’ve accepted it.”
Of course, Odorizzi said, it’s easier to accept when you’re pitching for a team that hits the most home runs.
“Yeah, with our lineup, nobody is complaining about home runs in Minnesota,” he said.
Seventh man up
Jorge Polanco became the American League’s seventh different starting shortstop in the past seven All-Star Games, which is a big change for a normally stable position. In fact, before this seven-year streak of constant turnover, the AL used only seven different starting shortstops in the previous 31 years, dating to 1982.
That’s what happens when Cal Ripken (14 starts), Alex Rodriguez (four) and Derek Jeter (nine) dominate a position for decades.
So does seven shortstops in seven years — J.J. Hardy, Jeter, Alcides Escobar, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado and now Polanco — mean the position doesn’t have the star power as before? Actually, it might be the opposite, according to Indians manager Terry Francona.
“The talent level at that position today is incredible. We’ve got one of the greats in the game on [Cleveland’s] roster [in All-Star reserve Francisco Lindor], and there are a lot of deserving guys around the league,” Francona said.
“We were fortunate enough to watch Hall of Famers at that position for a long time, but the overall talent at shortstop is as high as it’s ever been.”
Polanco would never publicly put himself in that class — he’s spent two days here talking about how honored he is to be elected to start, but he rarely concedes how deserving his stellar season makes him.
Privately, though, his fellow Twins say he is as sure of his ability as anyone on the team.
“He’s got a different Jorge inside him. He doesn’t talk about what he does, but he’s got a lot of confidence,” Jose Berrios said. “That’s from all the work he does. He’s a funny guy [in the clubhouse], but very determined and professional on the field.”
“Jorge is an extremely confident player, but he doesn’t like to show it,” added third-base coach Tony Diaz. “He’s very quiet, like he’s got a secret. Like he’s the only one who knows how good he is, and he’s letting us slowly find out. His self-esteem is pretty high, and for good reason.”