The outrageous surge in home runs over the past two-plus seasons has focused a lot of attention around baseball on the baseball itself. The suddenness with which this great storm of dingers broke out in the game after the 2015 All-Star break has led many to conclude that, since all other things have apparently remained equal, the ball is to blame.
Former Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has been one of the louder players asking for transparency from the league on the issue. He took to Twitter on Thursday to direct fire at commissioner Rob Manfred.
Been sitting on this... Exit velo and launch angle and it’s correlation to % chance of becoming a homer. 2014 vs. 2017 pic.twitter.com/UrfVVFVuJB— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) March 2, 2018
The chart indicates what has already been noted elsewhere: substantially more balls hit at what the data would indicate is a sub-optimal combination of launch angle and exit velocity have left the park in recent years.
Bear in mind that Verlander isn’t complaining on his own behalf here.
All I’m saying is I don’t care if balls are juiced (seriously). We’re all using the same ball so it’s a fair field. My issue is I don’t like being lied to. I knew something was different. Century old records are being broken and numbers are skewed.— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) March 2, 2018
A key point is the fact that everyone is playing with the same balls [Ed.: heh], so it’s not that there is a competitive disadvantage exactly. However, various pitchers have found themselves unable to survive in such a homer-happy environment. A different type of hitter is suddenly more valued. A certain type of pitcher is being devalued. All, potentially, through no fault or change in their actual skills and abilities.
The impetus for Verlander’s call for transparency is, somewhat ironically, CT scan analysis of baseball cores recently reported by Five Thirty-Eight. In an article released on Wednesday, the authors reported on studies that found that the core of baseballs were less dense, and weighed a half ounce less than balls used before the home run surge. That slight amount of difference isn’t much. Estimates are that the ball would only fly about six inches farther. However, combined with previous research showing that balls are less air resistant, possibly because of lower seams, and you have a decent set of reasons why the ball may be to blame.
Still, this new study only had a total sample of eight baseballs in it. Small sample size can still bite you even when you’re not talking about baseball players. The league continues to insist nothing has changed. Skeptics will continue to roll their eyes at that and point to the actual rules and their rather ludicrously wide tolerances for the size and weight on a finished baseball. Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait to see if the home run era continues to chug along this season or not. One way or the other, the ball is going to remain the principle culprit in most people’s eyes until some other reasonable explanation is offered.
Justin Verlander is certainly convinced. Brandon McCarthy isn’t so sure.
I don't know man I got a memo in my locker that said "balls are the same. We said so. Bye.- MLB Science" So, I don't know what to believe.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) March 2, 2018