About a week ago, the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester–after a GW home run from Kris Bryant–was asked about the potential of the baseball being ‘juiced.’ I think his response summed it up for everyone.
After a week of Chicago Cubs‘ games that were decided three times by a walk-off home run, it’s not a crazy question to at least ask. For years, fans had to determine if the players were ‘juicing,’ or the ball was ‘juiced.’
Things have changed with players, as the league has a strict anti-doping policy and regular testing. Now, you won’t see players like Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds come into Spring Training as entirely different players. Now it’s about the recovery, and extending a career.
With regular testing and regular suspension from the league (often players in the minors), the question of the ball being juiced has come up again. The question was asked of Jon Lester after Kris Bryant had just won the game with a walk-off home run. Is the ball different?
"“Yeah,” Lester said. “I know they’re not rubbed up like they used to be. You get balls back and they’re basically white. It seems like they’re right out of the box. I had a piece of the ball in my finger at one point tonight. h/t Tony Andracki, NBC sports Chicago"
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With the weather not yet ‘warm’ in many locations, the ball is leaving the yard at a record pace. I often wonder if the surge of players favoring ‘launch angle’ hasn’t attributed to this.
The game has become even more numbers and metrics based. Batting average and ERA used to tell most of the story. Now? Those two stats don’t even scratch the surface. But Lester went on to say that in the end, the players don’t really care.
"“I think I read something that David Price said — ‘We don’t care; just tell us.’"
If the ball is indeed juiced (MLB has declined that to be the case–ever), it’s ‘fair’ for all. Every hitter and pitcher is on an even plane. No one has the advantage of PEDs. If it’s the ball, fine. Pitchers, at least Lester and David Price, can live with it.
"“It is what it is. There’s no excuse. There’s no nothing. Obviously we gotta make good pitches. If we make good pitches, we can still get outs. I think I agree with what David said. If it is, just tell us. We don’t really care — there’s nothing we can do about it but continue to pitch.”"
And pitch Lester has. Off to what is likely the best start of his career this season, the juiced ball isn’t affecting him, if it is indeed juiced. After missing a few starts with a sore hamstring, Lester now has enough innings to qualify. After his last effort, he’s taken the top spot in ERA (1.16) and has allowed just three home runs a quarter of the way through the 2019 season. For comparison, he allowed 24 last year.
As good as Lester has been in his career, he’s only finished in the Cy Young vote four times. (Fourth in 2010 and 2014 with the Red Sox. Second in 2016 and ninth in 2018 with the Cubs.) But that doesn’t take away from what he’s accomplished. It just means he’s been surrounded by other great pitchers in his career during his time in the league.
If the players don’t seem to care that the ball is juiced, why should the fan? We don’t have to throw it or hit it, so I think if the players can manage it? So can we. Also, keep an eye out for my piece, ‘Is Jon Lester a surefire Hall of Famer?’ Since we’ve both battled cancer, you can imagine what side I’m on.