Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was obviously thrilled with his team’s victory last night. A victory made possible by three extra innings homers from his teammates and eight home runs from both teams in all.
But however happy he was with the result, he doesn’t think all of those bombs were mere happenstance. No, Keuchel sounds pretty convinced that the balls have been altered by Major League Baseball with the specific intention of creating exciting, dinger-filled games. Here he is after last night’s win:
“Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100%. But it is what it is. I’m just glad we came out on top . . . There are really powerful guys in this league, and they’re going to get theirs. But where you can tell a difference is the mid-range guy who’s hitting 20-plus home runs now. That doesn’t happen. That’s not supposed to happen . . . That’s what Major League Baseball wants. They want that exciting two home-run lead, and then they [the Dodgers] come back and hit another home run, and everybody’s still watching. That’s what they want. That’s what they’re getting.’’
Major League Baseball set — shattered, really — the record for most home runs this year, with 6,105 bombs being hit in the regular season. That was more than 400 more than the previous record. As Keuchel suggests, it’s not a matter of some muscle-bound freaks entering the game and breaking records. While a couple of guys hit 50 homers in 2017, the increase was an across-the-board affair, with many, many guys hitting, say, 20-25 homers in ways that players of their stature didn’t do in years past.
What’s more, the spike in homers in Major League Baseball was not a gradual thing. It began suddenly, in the middle of the 2015 season. This past summer there were two studies released in the month of June which suggest that the sudden spike in home runs was due to alterations in the construction of the baseball, possibly inadvertent, giving it slightly lower seams which enabled the ball to fly as many as 15-20 feet farther than on similar hits in the past. Major League Baseball denied that the ball is different, but as I noted in July, MLB’s denials were disingenuous and not convincing. At the same time, the studies which suggested a different baseball were not so robust and did not cover so large or necessarily a truly representative sample size of balls, so it’s hard to draw anything conclusive from them either.
To be sure, some of the homers hit last night were not moon shots. Joc Pederson‘s fifth inning homer was a bloop, really, Corey Seager‘s only went 383 feet and George Springer‘s game-clincher traveled only 389. If they flew 15-20 fewer feet like they might have in 2013, they’d be outs.
At the same time, it was a hot, dry night, and when it’s hot and dry in Los Angeles — usually during day games — the ball can fly out of that place. The absence of that typical southern California marine layer makes it a different park. Likewise, Both the Dodgers and Astros are run by analytically-bent front offices, who have no doubt preached the gospel of uppercut swings that are all the rage these days. It’s also worth noting that pitchers are always going to think that the deck is stacked against them. Indeed, Keuchel is certainly not the only one who has said he thinks the ball is juiced. Many pitchers have, in fact, claimed that the ball has been altered to create more homers. Some may truly believe it. Others could, quite possibly, just be looking for an excuse.
Still, you have to wonder. You have to wonder if Major League Baseball didn’t take a glance at the NBA’s three-point revolution and envision, as Keuchel suggests, a means of making games more exciting via quick strike offenses. You have to wonder if it looked at the sharp decline in offense in the years preceding the home run spike that began in the second half of the 2015 season and said “I wonder if we can do anything about it?” League spokesmen will deny it, of course. And as I said back in July, it’s quite possible that this is all a happy accident.
It doesn’t sound like Dallas Keuchel believes it’s an accident, though. I imagine he’s not alone in this regard.