It took a while, but Major League Baseball finally admitted there’s something weird going on with the balls this season. Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that the baseballs have contributed to this year’s historic home-run rate.
Manfred told David Lennon of Newsday the baseballs have less drag due to the “pill” in the middle of the ball.
The mention of drag there is more important than the “pill” at the center of the ball. Robert Arthur of Baseball Prospectus is among the many analysts who have critically look at the baseballs over the past couple seasons. In April, he concluded the drag on the baseball was extremely low.
What does that mean? As Arthur explained, the baseball flies a lot farther.
“[D]rag is incredibly important in determining how likely a hitter is to knock one out of the park. As baseballs become more aerodynamic, they travel further given a certain initial velocity. A deep fly ball that might have been caught at the warning track can instead go into the first row of the stands. A 3 percent change in drag coefficient can work to add about five feet to a well-hit fly ball, which can in turn increase home runs league wide by an astounding 10-15 percent.”
Arthur compared the low drag to the numbers he got during the 2017 season, when the home-run rate spiked. A record 6,105 home runs were hit that season.
That record is on pace to be shattered in 2019. The league is currently on pace to hit 6,614 home runs.
This season, 16 players have already hit at least 20 home runs. Last June 21, only four players had hit 20 home runs. In 2017, it was just seven players.
Manfred did not say whether the league planned to correct the issue moving forward. Following the home-run spike in 2017, the balls seemed to fall back to normal. The home-run total dropped back to 5,585 in 2018. Still high, but nowhere near the record.
If something is going to change again, it would fall on MLB to make it happen. MLB owns Rawlings, the company that makes its baseballs.
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