MLB: The Ball and its Inconsistencies This Season
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
For anyone that has followed this MLB regular season, it hasn’t been hard to notice that there has been a big difference in the game, a lot more homers. In fact, you may have already heard your favorite commentator talk of the ball being ‘juiced’ this season, and the numbers make it hard to argue with that statement.
In 2019 there was a total of 6776 home runs hit during the regular season, that’s 671 more home runs than the previous record set in the 2017 season. The 2019 regular season Yankees and Twins each hit over 300 home runs each, and all but 6 teams hit more than 200 regular season home runs. To put that in perspective, last season only 11 teams broke 200 home runs and no team broke 300. I know that baseball is unpredictable, but numbers like these haven’t even been dreamed about.
This new ball left a lot of pitchers to deal with a whole new ballgame, and many of them voiced their concerns. Most notably was in July when Astros ace and potential Cy Young winner Justin Verlander blamed and criticized MLB commissioner Rob Manfred (a Cornell ILR alumnus) for the changes to the ball.
But why am I talking about regular season stats when the World Series just concluded? That’s because this ‘magic’ ball seemed to disappear with the start of the postseason. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Robert Arthur, air drag on postseason baseballs has spiked up suddenly in comparison to the regular season, and I’m here to talk about why I think that is.
Back in 2015, Ken Rosenthal, a reporter for Fox Sports spoke about how Manfred, the then new commissioner, would change the game of baseball. Manfred discussed several things he wanted to do in order to increase the offensive flow of the game, many of which were rather radical ideas, including implementing a designated hitter in the NL, and eliminating exaggerated shifts. One thing that Manfred did briefly mention that day was the idea of “wrapping the ball tighter to make it fly farther.” Keep in mind, this report was one of Manfred’s first initial statements as commissioner.
Another factor to keep in mind is that baseball attendance has been decreasing since Manfred got the new job. According to a recent article from Forbes magazine, there has been a “7.14% attendance reduction, or a loss of 5,265,268 fans purchasing tickets and attending games” and with the average MLB ticket being worth about $58 (according to SeatGeek), that means a loss of over $300 million dollars. Now if you’re Rob Manfred and you found out the MLB has lost that much money, you’re probably going to want to change that, and it’s very likely that Manfred implemented this new ball in an attempt to make the game more exciting and in turn, increase attendance.
So imagine it’s almost the end of the 2019 regular season and that you’re Rob Manfred, this season has been completely unprecedented in terms of home runs and everyone in the MLB can clearly see that the ball has changed. What do you do? This is the point where there isn’t really a lot of concrete evidence from Manfred to work with, so I am only giving my own opinion. I believe that Manfred changed the ball ‘back’ for three reasons:
1) attendance numbers aren’t really an issue for playoff games
2) he wanted the playoffs to be more pitcher’s duels and back and forth games
3) he received a lot of criticism from players and general managers
Regardless of why he did this, Manfred has been facing a lot of criticism for the inconsistency of the game he has created. Verlander is not the only pitcher to feel the effects of the new ball, and with a big free agent market for pitchers after this season (names like Cole, Strasburg, Odirizzi, Ryu) the precedent for contracts for these big pitchers has the potential to reset itself.