Home runs are up this year in Major League Baseball. They’re up by a lot, on pace to shatter the league record for home runs in a season.
Observers started noting as early as April that home run rates were up, seemingly due to one thing: changes to the ball. MLB admitted as much when it tied the spike in homers to the baseballs having less drag in the air due to changes to the “pill” of the ball.
Players are taking notice of MLB’s juiced balls
MLB’s new homer-happy environment and its admission that the balls are different led to a fiery rant from Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander:
"It's a f------ joke," Verlander told ESPN. "Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you've got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f------ company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened.
“Manfred the first time he came in, what'd he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It's not coincidence. We're not idiots."
ESPN also noted that New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer didn’t disagree with Verlander’s assessment.
Manfred: MLB has given no direction’ to alter baseball
A day after Verlander’s comments, Manfred firmly stated that if the balls are different, it wasn’t because MLB ordered Rawlings to make any changes. However, he did again admit that the balls had reduced drag.
"Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball," Manfred told reporters Tuesday. "The flaw in logic is that baseball wants more home runs. If you sat in owners meetings and listen to people on how the game is played, that is not a sentiment among the owners for whom I work."
Manfred also said "there is no evidence from scientists that the ball is harder" but acknowledged that "the drag of the baseball is less."
Manfred also noted the league was testing baseballs to see if the seams were different, something that players have reportedly noticed.
“Pitchers have raised issues particularly about the tackiness and seams on the baseball, and we do believe those could be issues," Manfred said.
As Verlander noted, this is quite rich given that MLB now owns Rawlings and we’re seeing this enormous spike in home runs in the first full season after MLB’s purchase of the company.
By ESPN’s math, players hit 3,691 homers in the first half of the season and are on pace to hit 6,668 total this season, which would demolish the previous record of 6,105 in 2017. The phenomenon has also been observed in the Triple-A leagues, which are using MLB baseballs for the first time this year.
That’s a big enough change that if MLB wanted the balls to not change at all, someone somewhere in the chain of command of baseball manufacturing has royally screwed the pooch. Or they didn’t, and MLB really wanted this change.
Manfred didn’t even commit to changing the balls back if the cause of the reduced drag is discovered.
"We just haven't made a decision on that,'' Manfred said. "Changing the baseball is a mechanism by which you could manage the way the game is being played. We haven't missed that idea. But if we were going to do it, we would do it in a way that was transparent to the media and the fans in advance.''
We’ll see what Manfred means with the word “transparent” in there, considering it took the league three months to admit the balls were different in the first place.
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