The new Major League Baseball season begins Thursday – it's not an April Fool's joke – and all 30 teams were scheduled to take the field, but Orioles at Red Sox was postponed and there are rain worries in a few other cities. MLB bettors at William Hill Sportsbook and other sites may see lower game-by-game totals this year largely in National League parks for two reasons: No universal designated hitter and because MLB altered the baseballs a bit this offseason to not fly quite as far.
The universal DH was used in the shortened 2020 season because owners and players wanted to help ensure the health of pitchers who would have otherwise had to hit and run the bases in National League parks. Fans, owners and players all essentially wanted it back this season, but the Players' Association wouldn't agree to it because they want to use it as a bargaining chip in upcoming collective bargaining.
The current CBA expires on Dec. 1, 2021, and many expect there to be a lockout ahead of the 2022 season because owners and players essentially agree on nothing and don't trust one another. While the lack of a universal DH won't affect games in American League parks, it absolutely will in NL parks with pitchers having to hit again.
Via Baseball Reference's Wins Above Average By Position last year, the Minnesota Twins ranked No. 1 via the DH at 1.1 wins thanks to Nelson Cruz. He was an AL MVP candidate, batting .303 with 16 homers and 33 RBIs in 55 games.
Now, Cruz will not play in NL parks (he can't play the field at age 40) other than as a pinch-hitter -- that's a big disadvantage for the Twins in road interleague game such as Thursday at Milwaukee. The Atlanta Braves (0.8) and World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers (0.6) were No. 2 and 3, respectively, in the Wins Above Average category by a designated hitter.
Just for a point of comparison: In 2020, Braves designated hitters hit .307 with 17 homers, 52 RBIs, 33 runs scored, an OBP of .403 and a slugging of .578. In 2019, Braves pitchers hit .102 with zero homers, 14 RBIs, 12 runs scored, an OBP of .130 and a slugging of .122. So, yeah, the DH makes a big difference.
As for the new baseball, MLB wants to cut down on homers. In 2019, the last full season, there were a record-breaking 6,776 home runs hit, or 1.39 per team per game. Before 2021 spring training, MLB sent a memo to teams that the new balls will fly 1 or 2 feet shorter on hits that travel more than 375 feet. Over the past three seasons, 80.9 percent of home runs have traveled more than 375 feet.
Former AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, now with the Padres, said "it's definitely a different ball" this spring. He explained the laces on this spring's balls were thicker, allowing him to get a better grip and more easily snap off breaking balls. He also noticed fly balls were not carrying as much as they might have previously.
According to ESPN, home runs declined this spring to 1.11 per game, the lowest in the preseason since 2017. The average runs per game were approximately 9.4, down from 10.5 in 2019, the last full spring training. The Ringer, though, had a bit of a different take on the results this spring.
The highest total for Opening Day is, naturally, from Denver's Coors Field with an Over/Under of 11 runs between the Dodgers and Rockies. The lowest total is 6.5 runs between the Mets (Jacob deGrom) and Nationals (Max Scherzer) from D.C.
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