We’ve talked a lot about juiced baseballs over the past couple of years. The evidence that the seams are shorter and that the ball has less drag on it is pretty clear and the numbers are undeniable.
March/April 2019 witnessed more homers — 1144 — than any month in baseball history. On a per game average, that comes out to 2.62 per game, which is one of the highest rates for a month in Major League history. Keep in mind, of course, that the first month of the season usually sees the lowest home run rates of the year due to the cold weather. It’s only going to get worse. Or better, depending on what you think of homers.
You know who doesn’t like home runs? Pitchers. And one pitcher really wants Major League Baseball to own up to the juiced baseballs. From Bob Nightengale at USA Today:
In interviews this past month with everyone from pitchers to scouts to umpires to team officials, they informed USA TODAY Sports that today’s baseball may be juiced more than anyone’s body during the height of baseball’s ugly steroids era.
“Come on, just tell us,’’ Boston Red Sox veteran starter David Price says. “We all see it. Just come clean and say it.’’
He’s not the only one. Players in the homerrific 2017 World Series noted it publicly, and pitchers who have experienced an increased occurrence of blisters have railed agains the smoother, shorter-seamed balls as well. Yesterday Rob Manfred acknowledged that the ball is the issue but says it’s just a case of uncontrollable variation in the manufacturing of baseballs, which is done by hand and features natural products which make ensuring uniformity a bit trickier.
It’s hard to buy that, though, given that the home run rate spiked, across the board, in the middle of the 2015 season and has not abated since. If it was random variation there would be some, you know, variation, yes? What has actually happened with the baseball is unknown, but the data presents as if the ball was changed, either intentionally or by accident, at a single point and that it has not reverted to normal for pushing four years now.
And thus we have dingers. Not from juiced players but from juiced balls. Most people considered the offense of the PED era to be unnatural and illegitimate, but it took a while for that view to form. It was mostly a hindsight thing once the PED stories started breaking in the early 2000s. I wonder if we’ll have a similar reassessment of this era if and when more people become aware that they’re playing with a different ball now than they were just a few short years ago.