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Scoring, home runs down in spring training with new balls in play



With the slightly tweaked baseballs in play, scoring and home runs are down in spring training.

Through Sunday, spring training games are averaging 9.4 runs, the lowest scoring output in the preseason since at least 2015 and down more than one run from 2019 spring training (10.5 per game). In each of the past four preseasons, spring training games have averaged more than 10 runs.

Home runs also have declined this spring to 1.11 per game, the lowest in the preseason since 2017, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In early February, Major League Baseball informed teams that subtle changes to the baseball were being made for the 2021 season, with the goal of improving the consistency of the ball. According to the Associated Press, an MLB memo to teams stated that the new balls will fly one or two feet shorter on hits that travel more than 375 feet. Over the past three seasons, 80.9% of home runs have traveled more than 375 feet.

In 2019, the last 162-game season, a record 6,776 home runs were hit. Following that season, a team of scientists, commissioned by MLB, determined that manufacturing inconsistencies had caused there to be less drag on the baseball and contributed to the surge in home runs in recent seasons.

As part of the tweaks, Rawlings loosened the tension of the first three wool windings within the ball. The change lessened the ball’s weight by less than 0.1 of an ounce without altering its size, and decreased its coefficient of restitution (the bounciness of the ball), which in recent seasons had trended to the high end of the range MLB tries to maintain.

“Measurements from both Rawlings and the UMass Lowell test laboratory show that the desired effect was achieved,” Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Sportico in February.

Pitchers have noticed the changes to the ball in spring training. After a March 9 spring training start against the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres lefthander Blake Snell said the laces on the balls are “a lot thicker” and that the ball didn’t appear to be traveling as far.

“I hung a curveball and it didn’t go as far as I thought it was,” Snell said. “I mean, he didn’t even swing hard, but I’m used to pop flies are usually homers.

“It’s definitely a different ball,” he added. “I can promise you that it’s different.”

Oddsmakers aren’t quite sure the changes to the ball will result in a noticeable decrease in runs and say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach before making any significant changes to their numbers at sportsbooks.

“It’s just going to be a feel thing,” Randy Blum, a baseball oddsmaker for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, told ESPN. “If it’s a quarter-of-a run difference, I don’t know if that will have a huge effect. If it was something drastic, after two or three weeks, then we’d have to have those discussions.”

“Overall, though, I don’t think it’s going to be a huge difference, and we really need to give it some time, before we start reacting to something like this,” Steve Buchanan, an MLB analyst for DraftKings, said. “Obviously spring training is saying something different, but it’s a small sample.”

The MLB season begins Thursday.

ESPN Stats & Information researcher Jeffrey Lombardi and ESPN staff writer Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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Oakland Athletics continue stadium negotiations to stay in town, still considering Las Vegas option



Oakland Athletics president Dave Kaval stood somewhere near the south side of the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday morning, with the Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood within eyesight. Kaval will be there alongside his architect over the next two days, he said, sitting in on a series of meetings and analyzing where a prospective new stadium could someday reside. Meanwhile, negotiations with the city of Oakland regarding a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark at the Howard Terminal site are in what Kaval described as “the bottom of the ninth inning.”

Oakland City Council officials voted Tuesday in favor of a non-binding term sheet for the ballpark and its surrounding development, a project that will cost up to $12 billion. But Kaval pushed back because the city voted in favor of a term sheet that differed from the one the A’s proposed three months earlier and included amendments that the team was seeing for the first time. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed with a statement expressing disappointment in the outcome and promising to “immediately begin conversations with the A’s to chart a path forward for the Club.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

“I think we need to unpack what was passed and what it means,” Kaval said in a phone interview with ESPN. “The fact that the city did not vote on our proposal — I mean it’s unusual to have that positioning. We do appreciate some of the concessions that were made. I think the party had been negotiating in good faith to try to get to a mutually agreeable solution. Obviously we didn’t get there before the vote. And so we have to balance that progress with some of the stark realities of, ‘How do we move this project into an implementation phase?’ We can’t let the process be the product.”

The A’s made a public proposal in April stating they would privately finance the ballpark, which will cost an estimated $1 billion, while also providing $450 million in community benefits and arranging for an additional $11 billion in private investment to eventually build up the surrounding neighborhood with 3,000 residential units, up to 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, 270,000 square feet for retail, an indoor 3,500-seat performance center, 400 hotel rooms and up to 18 acres available for public parks.

The city countered with a plan that includes three key differences: a new financial structure that depends on only one infrastructure financing district, preventing the A’s from creating an additional one at Jack London Square; an increase in affordable housing demands to 35% of residential units; and an additional community benefits fund that isn’t solely committed to capital investments.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other community leaders hosted a news conference near the Howard Terminal site on Wednesday morning in which they touted the city’s proposal and urged the A’s to continue negotiating. Schaaf said she’s noticing an “openness” from the A’s, adding that the city “provided the primary things that they asked for, that they have said they need to keep going on this process.”

“I respect that they’re trying to keep the heat on,” Schaaf said, “and what better place to go than Vegas for heat.”

Kaval, on the other hand, painted the Vegas trips as due diligence to cover for a project that might not materialize and provide a parallel path for a team playing in an outdated facility. Kaval said he wants more specifics about how the A’s would be reimbursed for a $352 million infrastructure payment and more specificity around when environmental clearances will be given and when a final binding vote can occur, ideally by the end of the current baseball season.

Oakland city officials see their counterproposal from Friday, and the amendments that were introduced on Tuesday, as the natural evolution of a negotiation.

A’s officials basically see it as a new agreement entirely.

“We need to know what was passed, how it relates to our original proposal,” Kaval said. “We need to understand the timeline to get the definitive vote. And we need to work really closely with the league, because they have a strong point of view on this. They wanna make sure the A’s have a home. We really are running out of time. We’re under a lot of pressure because our current facility is 10 years past its useful life. Let’s not forget that going sideways is really no longer an option.”

The A’s have spent the better part of the past two decades hoping to secure a new stadium in the Bay Area, a pursuit that took them through San Jose, Fremont and multiple sites in Oakland, most notably around Laney College. Renovations of the current Coliseum site, where the A’s have played since 1968, have been deemed nonviable largely because of the team’s stated desire for a downtown location.

Manfred said before last week’s All-Star Game that it would be a “mistake” to refer to the Las Vegas option as a bluff, calling it “a viable alternative for a major league club.” Other relocation options — including Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Montreal — could materialize if the team’s deal with the city falls through.

That is not necessarily the case just yet.

“We’re focused on the two parallel paths — Oakland and southern Nevada,” Kaval said. “That’s by the direction of the league, and that will remain our focus until they give us additional direction.”

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New York Mets trade OF Billy McKinney to Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguer, cash



CINCINNATI — The New York Mets traded outfielder Billy McKinney to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday for minor league outfielder Carlos Rincon and cash.

The NL East-leading Mets also claimed right-hander Roel Ramírez off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Mets acquired McKinney from Milwaukee on May 25. In 39 games with New York, the 26-year-old batted .220 (20 for 91) with six doubles, a triple, five home runs and 14 RBI. He was designated for assignment on July 16.

The 23-year-old Rincon hit .263 with 12 homers and 48 RBI in 63 games at Double-A Tulsa. He will report to Double-A Binghamton.

The 26-year-old Ramirez will be optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched in one game for St. Louis this year and one game last season.

Ramirez was 0-1 with one save and a 4.34 ERA in 20 games with Triple-A Memphis this year.

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Baltimore Orioles pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander on COVID injured list



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles placed left-hander Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander on the COVID-19 injured list before Wednesday’s game at Tampa Bay.

Akin had been scheduled to start against the Rays.

Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde learned about the situation late Tuesday night.

“We’re following the protocols,” Hyde said. “There’s going to be more information. This is pretty last-minute news, so there’s going to be more information as we go along, but right now we’re putting two guys on the injured list because of COVID protocols and then we’ll go from there.”

Alexander Wells, who was on the taxi squad, replaced Akin as Wednesday’s starter. Outfielder Ryan McKenna, who had been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday, rejoined the team.

“You’ve seen it a few times here with the league with other clubs,” Hyde said. “It’s really the first time this has happened with us and it’s unfortunate, but I saw that a couple other teams had same sort of issue recently and ready for it to be over.”

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