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The cores of the baseballs used since 2015 have changed

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Last year two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around 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. In 2017, 6,105 home runs were hit, vastly eclipsing 2000’s all-time record.

The upshot of those studies was that the outside of the ball had changed to increase bounciness, to lower the seams and thus to reduce wind resistance, which could increase the distance a ball could fly. Today Arthur and Tim Dix of FiveThirtyEight have a new report about baseballs which show that something inside the ball has changed too: the core. The core of the balls used since the 2015 All-Star break — when homers suddenly and simultaneously spiked around baseball — is less dense than the core used before, which could add additional distance onto the flight of balls.

The upshot:

Combine all these factors together — a lighter, more compact baseball with tighter seams and more bounce — and the ball could fly as much as 8.6 feet farther. According to Nathan’s calculations, this would lead to a more than 25 percent increase in the number of home runs. Asked whether these changes in combination could have significantly affected the home run rate, MLB declined to comment.

Arthur and Dix note that homers have increased 46% since 2014 and suggest that the changed ball could account for over half of that, while uppercut swing strategies recently adopted by hitters could account for the rest.

Major League Baseball continues to be cagey about all of this, declining comment on these sorts of stories and offering disingenuous excuses for increased homers in order to avoid blaming the ball. The league is reportedly now studying the matter itself and is supposed to issue some sort of report about it all at some point.

If the league’s report does not deal with the above-mentioned studies and observations head-on and, instead, reads like a position paper denying such claims without providing underlying evidence and testing methodologies, it should be dismissed out of hand.

Tony Clark: Universal DH ‘gaining momentum’ among players

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Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark met the press late this morning and covered a wide array of topics.

One of them: free agency, which he referred to as being “under attack” based on the slow market for free agents last offseason.

“What the players saw last offseason was that their free-agent rights were under attack on what has been the bedrock of our system,” Clark said. He added that they “have some very difficult decisions to make.” Presumably in the form of grievances and, down the road, a negotiating strategy that seeks to claw back some of the many concessions the union has given owners in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. CBAs, it’s worth noting, that Clark negotiated. We’ve covered that territory in detail in the past.

Of more immediate interest was Clark’s comment that the idea of a universal designated hitter is, among players, “gaining momentum.” Clark says “players are talking about it more than they have in the past.” We’ve talked a lot about that as well.

Given that hating or loving the DH is the closest thing baseball has to a religion, no one’s mind is going to be changed by any of this, but I think, practically speaking, it’s inevitable that the National League will have the DH and I think it happens relatively soon. Perhaps in the next five years. The opposition to it at this point is solely subjective and based on tradition. People like pitchers batting and they like double switches and they like the leagues being different because they, well, like it. If the system were being set up today, however, they’d never have it this way and I think even the DH-haters know that well. That doesn’t mean that you can’t dislike a universal DH, but it does mean that you can’t expect the people who run the game to cater to that preference when it makes little sense for them to do it for their own purposes.

Anyway, enjoy convincing each other in the comments about how the side of that argument you dislike is wrong.