A popular saying in the baseball community is “chicks dig the long ball”. It is just a saying but man if it was literal, those “chicks” must be ecstatic about the new home run storm that has struck the MLB. The number of home runs that are being hit nowadays is at an all-time high and Major League Baseball is just playing it off like it is a coincidence. Could it be an actual coincidence? Of course, but no one actually believes that.
There is just no acknowledgment on how this recent spike in home runs over the past few years. People want answers, especially pitchers in the majors. “These balls are going 430, 440 feet, and they’re running full-sprint, and don’t think it’s a homer. They’re not even getting all of it, and they’re hitting homers to center field. That should not happen. Period,” David Price of the Boston Red Sox said earlier this month. “It seems almost like the ones they use in the Home-Run derby with the way it flies,” says Chicago Cubs pitcher John Lester, “but that’s the thing baseball people want to see, all of these homers, and how far they went.” “I’m amazed the question is even being asked,” Orioles pitcher Alex Cobb said early in April this season, “the ball is juiced.”
Even though pitchers have spoken about their concerns more recently and over the past few years due to the increase in home runs, there have been only vague responses from Major League Baseball about it all. Last year, a study was done by a group of majority college professors and others gathered by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Here are some of the what they called “findings” on the study, directly from the report itself:
- “StatCast data show that the increases in home runs are primarily due to better “carry” for given launch conditions (exit velocity, launch angle, spray angle) as opposed to a change in launch conditions. The better carry results in longer fly ball distances for given launch conditions and therefore more home runs.”
- “There is supporting evidence that the aerodynamic properties of the baseballs have changed, both from laboratory measurements and from 3 analysis of StatCast/Trackman trajectories, both for pitched and batted balls. Additionally, a physics-based model for the flight of the baseball shows that small changes in the aerodynamic properties of the baseball that are comparable to the measured changes in the drag coefficient since 2015 can explain the observed increase in home run production over the periods studied.”
- “There is no evidence that the observed decrease in drag coefficient is attributable to a change in a property of the baseball that is currently tested by Rawlings or UMass/Lowell, including the size, weight, and seam height.”
Those were some of the “findings” out of the 13 that were listed in the report. That entire report is a massive 84 questions long and yet, it did not answer arguably the biggest question of all; why are there more home runs? The main explanation is the launch angles and “aerodynamic properties” of baseballs in the past few years but nothing on how this has happened. How did baseballs suddenly begin having “a decrease in the ball’s drag properties” exactly? Could it be what is inside the baseball? Well according to the committee who made the report, the material, seam height, size or weight has not changed at all. So then what gives?
Well, there is another coincidence that is currently happening that does not help the case that major league baseballs are “juiced”. Now only the MLB had used the balls that they currently use, ones made in a Rawlings factory in Costa Rica. Minor League baseballs had been used in China until this year when the MLB made it so Triple-A baseball uses the same balls that are used in the majors. The result? A significant increase in home runs in Triple-A throughout all of the organizations. “That kind of speaks for itself doesn’t it,” Lester said in regard to the homer increase in Triple-A, “the numbers are through the roof.” Just look at the numbers below. The increase from last season into this one is a 135% increase.
|Triple-A Year||Home Runs Hit Per Plate Appearance|
|2019 (As of 4/18)||32|
There is not only an issue that there are suddenly more home runs in Major League Baseball nowadays, but that the MLB is hiding the truth from everyone. They could deny all they want that the baseballs are the same as they were five years ago, there is no way it should be possible that home run rates are this high. Go back to the steroid era of baseball where you had guys like Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGwire hitting over 50 home runs per season. Even in those years, there were still more home runs hit in the year 2017 than in any of those seasons.
|MLB Year||Home Run Rate (Per team, per game)|
|2019 (As of May 3rd)||1.29|
Above is a table consisting of home run rates over the past five years with the average of all 30 teams per year and as you can see, there is a large increase over the last 2-3 years from five years ago. The rate from 2019 would be the largest home run rate in MLB history. A jump that big over five years just does not happen naturally, but again MLB refuses to acknowledge that something is different going on with the baseballs.
What reasoning does MLB have for not providing an actual answer to the ball situation? I do not think it is so bad, but I only say that as a fan of the sport. But what about the pitchers who have to change the way they did things five years ago because the balls are different. Look at the guys who were quoted above, David Price and Jon Lester. Both of those pitchers have been very successful in the past but for Lester, his HR per 9 innings in 2017 and 2018 are higher than his career average. Price’s are actually below, but Price’s issue is just how hard balls are being hit and how guys are hitting home runs with such ease, even when they do not hit it as hard as they had.
People like to see home runs and if the goal by Major League Baseball was to draw in more fans by having more home runs hit due to the ball, I do not blame them for doing it. I just believe that something like this is something that should be voted on by all of the franchises rather just be done under everyone’s nose. This is not an advantage for pitchers. Strikeout rates have indeed gone up along with the home runs, but that does not benefit pitchers the way the high amount of home runs does not benefit them.
It is a hitter’s game now and it seems that Major League Baseball is all in on keeping it that way, whether they want to admit it or not. When you think about it, its kind of always has been that way, but with the way things are nowadays, pitchers are a lot more vocal about it. You hear a lot more about the big hitters than you do pitchers. The hitters are the ones getting paid more than the pitchers too. Of the 15 MLB contracts that are worth over 200 million dollars, only three of them belong to pitchers. The “juiced” baseballs aid hitters and their numbers while the opposite is typically true with pitchers, outside of the strikeout numbers.
If you look at other sports, the games are evolving there too. In the NFL it is pretty well known that it is now a passing and offensive game. Defenders there are still getting paid well though as guys like Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack have massive contracts like their offensive counterparts. In the NBA it is all about three-point shooting but there is a clear acknowledgment from the league itself about it, and no significant rules have changed forcing the game to evolve. It was the Golden State Warriors that started that trend that has taken over the league. In baseball, the hitters are at an advantage in the game itself and when it comes to getting paid, and the numbers prove it.
You can question what would actually happen if Major League Baseball actually came out and admitted that the balls are different. Will there be actual change? At minimum, the truth would be out and pitchers would have their suspicions confirmed, something I do think they are owed after all of the denial from the league about the ball change. Pitchers can also benefit when it comes to negotiating as well if they performed well during the home run increase and make the case that they pitched well even with juiced balls. At the end of the day, the truth should be out, and Major League Baseball should come clean and say that there is something different about the baseballs because numbers do not lie.