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WHAT’S UP, UP AND AWAY WITH THE BALL?

WHAT’S UP, UP AND AWAY WITH THE BALL?

Since the 2016 season, the homeruns are flying out of the parks at a rate never seen before! Are the modern balls the cause of this flyball spike?

Of all the products being sold in our three Baseball Town locations, one is the talk of the baseball world early in the 2019 Major League season: the ROMLB.  That’s the official ball used in MLB games, made by Rawlings (https://www.baseballtown.ca/us/search/romlb/).

 

It’s undeniable.  Balls are flying out of MLB stadiums at a rate never seen…  And farther than we’ve ever seen, too! 

 

Empirical evidence abounds: homeruns are being hit at a record pace of 2.62 per game through April, up 12% from 2018; the average distance of home runs is over 400 feet for the first time in the Statcast era, and; two of only four players (that’s 50%) in MLB history to hit 14 dingers before May 1st have done it this year (Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger).  And we’re still in the cold weather months, when the ball typically has less carry!

 

So, has the MLB intentionally juiced up their balls, as many pundits now suggest?  Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated over and over that their tests revealed negligible differences between balls from 2015 and earlier (the home run spike seems to have originated in the 2016 season) and those from 2016 to the present (which we will refer to as the modern balls).

 

An independent study conducted by sports science writers Rob Arthur and Tim Dix for FiveThirtyEight.com contradicts Manfred’s claims (for the detailed report: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/juiced-baseballs/).  Although subtle, the research speaks of minute variances in the composition of the core of the old versus the modern balls.  Slight differences in the visible part (surface) of both were also found.

 

Analyst and former pitcher Rick Sutcliffe recently spoke about the different feel of today’s balls during a broadcast.  He was adamant that the modern ball has a much slicker feel than the one he played with, stating that the seams are much tighter, thus more difficult to feel.

 

The FiveThirtyEight study contends that a combination of lighter (0.5 grams difference due to a less dense core), more compact, slicker and bouncier balls, resulting in less drag during flight, could potentially add up to an average of 8.6 feet to a typical max-launch-angle flyball.

 

But even the staunchest sceptics can’t ignore the most compelling statistic supporting the “juiced ball” theory.  Before this season, the MLB made the decision to have all AAA leagues switch from minor league balls (made in China) to Major League balls (the ROMLB, made in Costa Rica under different standards).  The results through April: a 41.7% increase in the number of long balls!

 

Whether MLB brass (and/or Rawlings) intended these modifications to the ball’s makeup remains difficult to prove.  But if we go back to the Sosa vs McGuire home run race that put fans back in the seats, jacked up TV ratings and made everyone forget the 1994-95 lockout, the motivation to manufacture power is obvious.  After all, as Greg Maddux put it in the iconic 90’s commercial: “Chicks dig the long ball!”

 

More taters aren’t necessarily bad for the game, but the modern ball seems to have also generated an increase in the number of strikeouts and walks.  If the ball flies faster off the bat, it stands to reason it also moves faster from the pitcher’s hand to the plate.  Artists of the mound, such as the aforementioned Maddux, are an endangered species.  It is now a max-effort world.

 

If the modern ball was planned, let me ask you this M. Manfred:

 

With all the efforts recently deployed to shorten the length of games, is this the direction you want to take the game going forward?

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