By DYLAN BRETT, sophomore
6,776. That’s how many home runs were hit in just 4,860 MLB regular-season games this year, shattering the previous record of 6,105 in 2017. There is no question that there has been a home run surge. Home runs per plate appearance is currently sitting at 3.5%, an all-time high. While there are many reasons for this sudden upswing in power throughout the league, the most talked-about theory being thrown around by baseball fans is that the baseballs have been tampered with, or “juiced,” by the MLB to make them go further and stay in the air longer. The “juiced ball” speculation
began around July when Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander brought up the topic during an interview at the All-Star game in Cleveland, Ohio. “I believe 100 percent that the baseballs have been messed with,” the disgruntled star said when asked about the uptick in home runs throughout the league. He went on to say, “It’s made the game a joke.” The 36-year old righthander isn’t alone, as many baseball fans are extremely unhappy about the sudden home run increase. The juiced ball theory gains more
support every day.
But what exactly is “juicing” baseballs? What is MLB altering about them? How does it make them go further? Well, it is an extremely simple process that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred calls “the centering of the pill,” which means the ball is constructed in a way that makes it travel quicker and further due to its improved aerodynamic state. In simpler terms, it means the ball has less “drag.”
The manufacturer shrinks the core of the baseball, causing the flight of the ball to be different. A 2016 investigation conducted by FiveThirtyEight found that baseballs have been bouncier and less air resistant since 2015. Using x-rays, FiveThirtyEight’s study found a massive 40% decrease in
core density in baseballs produced after 2015, and roughly 7% more
rubber and 10% less silicon in the later pills. These changes correspond with lower pill mass and increased bounce.
Following the investigation by FiveThirtyEight and many other parties, MLB released an 84-page report acknowledging changes made in the baseball. The balls were smoother, but the league claimed this wasn’t due to any
changes in the way Rawlings, the official MLB baseball manufacturer, was making the ball. The commissioner suggested that it was likely due to different materials used by Rawlings, along with the way the balls were
being stored—an indirect admittance to
altering the baseballs.
Many prominent names across the baseball landscape have expressed their opinions on this controversy. Pitchers Sean Doolittle and Patrick Corbin of
the Washington Nationals team asked for total transparency on the handling of baseballs. Former Mets manager Terry Collins voiced that “The seams on the ball are definitely lower, and they’ve done something to make ‘em go further.” Pete Rose, one of the most respected hitters of all-time,
expressed his suspicions regarding juiced balls at a signing in Los Angeles when he said, “I’m going to argue with baseball until the day I die,” Rose claimed, “That baseball is juiced. I don’t care what anybody says … I saw a ball bounce behind the dugout and it bounced into the second deck. Now, there’s something going on there.”
However, all of this isn’t to say that the altering of baseballs is the sole reason for the spike in home runs. A huge portion of the increase in offense falls on the fact that the game is played differently now. The Pete Roses and Tony Gwynns of the game are gone, and there are no more players with
“small ball” or “gap to gap” mindsets. Every single player steps into the box with the intention of putting the ball over the fence, and to truly be a star in this league, their home run tally must be off the charts. Take the biggest stars at the moment as prime examples of this theory: Mike Trout, Cody
Bellinger, and Christian Yelich combined for a total of 136 home runs this year. National League Rookie of the Year winner Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs, setting a record for first-year ball players. The increased marketability of fan favorites such as Alonso and New York Yankees power-hitting superstar Aaron Judge, gives teams a reason to emphasize the importance of home runs. Moreover, the rise in pitching velocity also attributes to the home run surge as the major league fastball travels at an average speed of
92.0 mph, an immense increase from the median of 90.9 mph from five years ago. With pitchers tossing at these speeds, the average home run leaves the bat at over 90 mph. All of these stats and analytics are the
perfect ingredients to cook up more home runs than ever before.
While there are analytical points backing this rise of home runs, baseball is a changing game with changing players and a changing fanbase. With new technologies, baseball will continue to evolve, and strategy will advance along with it.