There’s some fresh research on the baseballs being used since after the 2015 All-Star break. And it might be the best news for the game in years.
Despite denials by MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred, the balls are simply different than they were since before a massive home run spike in the past two and a half seasons. It’s likely that these changes in the baseballs have led to more longballs.
Fans everywhere should be rejoicing. And Manfred should probably just admit it at this point.
Why deny the best thing to happen to baseball in a long time? Home runs are the most entertaining thing possible about baseball games and they’re getting a record number of them without players having to ravage themselves with PEDs. The 2017 season saw a record 6,105 home runs fly out of the ballpark, beating the previous record of 5,693 in 2000 – in the heart of the steroid era. There was almost a new record in 2016 as well, when there were 5,610 total dingers.
Five Thirty Eight continues to be all over this. And they took their research to another level with new findings revealed on Thursday. There’s a ton of complex science-y stuff that you may or may not want to indulge in, and it’s worth checking out either way.
But here’s the short version. Research out of USC and Kent State found that the core of the “new” baseballs – the ones MLB started to use after the 2015 All-Star break – was notably less dense and had a different chemical makeup from the “old” ones. Five Thirty Eight bought one brand new ball from Rawlings and bought others on eBay to use for the research.
The USC researchers used CT scans (seriously) to examine the inner-workings of the baseballs without having to cut them open. They found that the core has a reduced density that allows it to fly about 6 inches farther. That could be the difference between catching the ball at the Fenway bullpen wall and toppling in there as the ball hits the dirt for a homer.
The Kent State group found changes in the chemical composition of the balls, which found that the new ones are composed in a way that makes them “more porous” and “less dense” than the old ones.
Even shorter version: the balls are lighter.
Are They ‘Juiced’?
Prior research by both The Ringer and Five Thirty Eight determined that changes to the baseballs could make them fly up to 8 feet farther. So if the average fly ball is going literally 8.5 feet farther than usual, that would likely result in more home runs. Hence, you have this new “super ball era”. (You now know who coined that term first, folks.)
It’s also worth noting that there’s been a recent shift in philosophy for a lot of power hitters, with more of an emphasis on swinging upward and getting air under the ball. It has resulted in a new wave of barbarians who hit a bunch of home runs but also strike out a lot. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge is (literally) the biggest of the bunch in that group.
But if the reality is that the ball has been changed to give it a little more distance – that they’re “juiced,” which is the most popular way to describe it – then what’s the real harm in that? Players don’t have to poison themselves. It’s a completely level playing field for both pitchers and hitters. Fans are entertained. Highlights everywhere.
Are You Not Entertained?
Let’s be honest, what was the most entertaining game of the 2017 season? You might say Game 5 of the World Series between the Astros and Dodgers. They combined for seven home runs in that game, a 13-12 thriller that actually made you want extra innings. And what was the most entertaining run of baseball in the past two decades It was 1998, when a pair of jacked-up brutes started blasting balls a country mile on the way to obliterating a decades-old record.
Pitchers are still generating plenty of strikeouts. And at the same time, the baseballs are hurtling toward the moon at an unprecedented pace. Even if MLB somehow didn’t have anything to do with the apparent changes to the baseballs, it’s certainly worked out in the game’s favor. Baseball has figured out how to get more balls over the outfield wall by juicing the baseballs instead of the baseball players.
The next step is to figure out how to make games not take 16 hours a night. (That would be a pitch clock.) But fans should be excited that they really do have the home run part figured out. Whoever is responsible for it deserves some kind of award, not to hide the true intentions. The balls are juiced, home runs are back, and baseball will be that much better off for it.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.