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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?

No, the Astros aren’t being targeted for HBPs in spring training

Alex Bregman
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On Wednesday, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was hit by Cardinals pitcher Ramon Santos. It marked the seventh time an Astros batter had been hit in spring training exhibition games thus far, the highest total among all teams. As expected, teams are exacting revenge for the Astros’ cheating ways!

Well, not quite. The pitch Santos hit Bregman with was a 3-2 breaking ball that got away. Usually, if a pitcher is going to hit a batter as an act of revenge, he’ll attempt to do it with a first-pitch fastball.

José Altuve was also hit by a pitch against the Tigers on Sunday. The pitch, which looks to be the off-speed variety, appeared to graze his uniform as opposed to hitting him flush, so it was likely unintentional on the part of pitcher Nick Ramirez.

Other Astros to have been hit in spring training thus far: Alex De Goti, Aledmys Díaz, Osvaldo Duarte, Dustin Garneau, and Jake Meyers. Not exactly a who’s-who list of Code Breaker operatives.

Will some pitchers intentionally throw at the Astros this year? Almost certainly, despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s warning. Have they been doing it from the moment exhibition games began earlier this month? Certainly not.