This past summer, two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchell Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point towards the middle of the 2015 season. In 2015, 4,909 home runs were hit across the league. That wasn’t an alarming number. However, in 2016, 5,610 homers were hit, which was then the second-highest total of all time, trailing only 5,693 in 2000. This year, 6,105 home runs were hit, vastly eclipsing 2000’s all-time record. That’s a 412-homer difference.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has already gone on record disingenuously trying to blame anything else for the spike in home runs. Major League Baseball released a statement in early July claiming balls remain within established guidelines and that there is no evidence that the ball has been changed “in any way that would lead to a meaningful impact on on-field play.” Later in July, he blamed bats. He said, “One thing that we’re thinking about is bats. We’ve kind of taken for granted that bats aren’t different. We’re starting to look at the issue of bats.”
Game 2 of the World Series saw the Astros and Dodgers combine for eight home runs, a World Series record. The next day, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel said, “Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100 percent.” He added, “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.”
On Friday, prior to Game 3 of the World Series, Manfred responded to claims of a juiced ball. Via Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal, Manfred reiterated that game balls have been tested and remain within specifications. Manfred also said that people analyzing a supposedly juiced ball based on one homer-happy game (Game 2) isn’t really analysis.
Which, of course, is disingenuous. It’s not a one-game sample. We have two and a half regular seasons worth of data, plus two well-performed studies. Keuchel thinks the balls are juiced. So does Justin Verlander. So do David Price, Dan Warthen, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, and Chris Archer. Meanwhile, Manfred has been unable to actually refute any amount of the overwhelming evidence. He has only attempted to deflect.
The game changes every so often. The mound gets lower. Stadiums get smaller. Players get bigger, focus on different mechanics. Rules get added, removed, and amended. Changing the baseball isn’t a capital offense. The constant disingenuous deflection and denial is really why everyone is going for the jugular. Just admit the balls were changed so we have official context for recent statistics. That’s all.