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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 20: The baseballs have changed

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Much has been written about the composition and performance of baseballs over the last couple of years. In 2017, Five Thirty Eight’s Rob Arthur pointed out that newer baseballs have a lower drag coefficient, which led to longer fly balls and which, in turn, likely led to the surge in home runs over the previous few seasons. In 2018 a new study emerged that, not only do the balls fly farther, but that they also can cause blisters.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist, took apart some baseballs and studied the composition in a study for The Athletic. She found that the seams in newer baseballs are nine percent thicker than seams used on 2014 baseballs. Wills pointed out that thicker laces make the baseball less likely to deform after contact with the bat, keeping spherical symmetry. That, Major League Baseball concluded in its own study, likely reduced the ball’s drag. Wills observes that the thicker laces could also lead to the increase in blisters on pitchers’ fingers. Many pitchers have suspected this for some time. The study shows they are right to suspect it.

Why are the balls different now? No one really knows or, at any rate, no one will admit it if they know. Major League Baseball has suggested it could be a simple manufacturing error.

Now that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings, I suppose it’s their responsibility going forward, eh?

Astros’ Verlander to have elbow surgery, miss rest of season

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Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner announced the news Saturday on his Instagram account in a 1½-minute video.

“In my simulated game a couple days ago, I felt something in my elbow, and after looking at my MRI and conversing with some of the best doctors in the world, we’ve determined that Tommy John surgery is my best option,” Verlander said.

He threw to hitters on Wednesday for the first time since he was injured in the team’s opener on July 24. He threw 50 pitches in the bullpen before throwing about 25 pitches to hitters in two simulated innings.

“I tried as hard as I could to come back and play this season,” Verlander said. “Unfortunately, my body just didn’t cooperate.”

Verlander has been on the injured list with a right forearm strain. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 2019.

“Obviously, this is not good news,” Verlander said. “However, I’m going to handle this the only way I know how. I’m optimistic. I’m going to put my head down, work hard, attack this rehab and hopefully, come out the other side better for it.

“I truly believe everything that everything happens for a reason, and although 2020 has sucked, hopefully, when this rehab process is all said and done, this will allow me to charge through the end of my career and be healthy as long as I want and pitch as long as I want and accomplish some of the goals that I want in my career.”

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