Hey Justin: Kvit Yer Kvetchin’, Dude

One would think that with Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander getting closer to Coopestown with each passing day, he would be feeling pretty happy these days.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Verlander, you see, is positing conspiracy theories about the increase in home runs this year, accusing Rawlings, which Major League Baseball owns, of "juicing up" newly-manufactured balls, presumably to entice more Millennials to watch, and attend, games. He also includes Commissioner Rob Manfred as a "conspirator." Of course, the fact that Verlander is allowing 1.49 home runs per nine innings pitched has nothing to do with his whining about this (Tampa Bay's Charlie Morton leads the majors with an average of 0.69).

Let's assume that Verlander is right — and hitters this year are on pace to hit 6,463 home runs, easily breaking the all-time record of 6,105 set in 2017. In that case, it will be the dawning of baseball's third "live-ball era" — the first beginning in 1920, when newly-installed, and controversial (to say the least!) Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a grotesque overreaction to the Black Sox scandal the year before) ordered all balls removed from the game after showing even the slightest degree of wear, and pitchers were forbidden to scuff (although Kevin Gross somehow got away with it decades later) or otherwise deface the ball. These changes, undertaken after the public outcry that accompanied the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman from a beanball delivered by New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, resulted in more offense, even if this was not intended.

The second "live-ball era," however, was deliberately caused by rules changes, after both leagues combined for an all-time record-low batting average of .236 in 1968, and Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with a lowest-ever .301 (and was the only AL batter to hit .300 or better that year). The main rules change concerned spit balls, after Bob Gibson, whose 1.12 ERA in 1968 was the lowest since Dutch Leonard's 0.96 in 1914 — had been accused of throwing them: the new rule mandated that an automatic ball be called if a pitcher put his mouth to the ball (and one wonders why, in lieu of throwing the ball four times and risking a wild pitch, a pitcher couldn't simply put his mouth to the ball four times to execute an intentional walk). The pitcher's mound was also lowered by five inches, from 15 inches to 10, and the upper limit of the strike zone was lowered from the batter's armpits to the letters.

Besides, Verlander is competing with his fellow pitchers, not batters, for the Cy Young award (he won the AL Cy Young in 2011), the ERA title (which he also won in the AL in 2011) pitching's Triple Crown, consisting of most wins, most strikeouts, and lowest ERA (having been won by him in 2011 also), along with all the other statistical titles. So as long as Verlander outperforms all of the other pitchers — in the American League, or in Major League Baseball, as applicable — in the iconic words of Hillary Rodham Clinton, what difference does it make as to how many home runs the batters are hitting, or what their overall batting average is?

And Verlander thinks he's got it bad, as a pitcher in baseball: from the 1978 "chuck rule" onward, the NFL has been so revolutionary in favoring the offense that it would make Karl Marx blush (average points scored per team per game has gone up from 17.2 in 1977 to 23.3 in 2018). Then there is the NBA's three-point shot, implemented in 1979, which has had a similar effect on scoring in that league.

So count your blessings, Justin — which barring something extremely unfair, will soon include a second AL Cy Young award.

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