If you’ve been following along with Major League Baseball this season, you know the baseball is hopping over the fence at alarming rates — and it’s due in part to the ball itself. A combination of changes, including reduced seams and a more-centered “pill,” have made the ball more aerodynamic — capable of carrying further and at higher speeds than past iterations. Hence the league-wide home-run barrage that is threatening seemingly every record on the books.
For the most part, pitchers have remained quiet on the matter. That changed Monday, when Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander used the All-Star Game to air his grievances with MLB and the new baseball. Here’s part of what Verlander said, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan:
“It’s a f—ing joke,” said Verlander, an eight-time All-Star who is starting his second All-Star Game on Tuesday. “Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f—ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”
Verlander,in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, made some other valid points, noting MLB has always juiced the balls for the Home Run Derby — so what’s stopping them from doing the same thing all season long?
The regular-season numbers resemble what would happen if the Home Run Derby balls were used all year long. Over the course of the first half, teams homered 1.37 times per game; the record high entering this season was 1.26 times per game, set in 2017. Add in what’s happening at the Triple-A level, where big-league baseballs are being used, and it’s clear what’s going on.
Obviously this isn’t the first time MLB has faced these accusations. Rather, the charge seems to pop up every 10 or so years, like clockwork. There was the rabbit-ball epidemic of the late-80s, a slew of allegations in the ’90s and ’00s, and now this. (Japan had its own juiced ball scandal a few years ago — and the league later admitted to being behind it.)
Writing off Verlander as a crank or a kook would be unwise. There’s ample evidence suggesting the ball is different in a way that’s more conducive to offense: be it the statistics referenced above; various independent studies; or commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent concession.
The question isn’t whether the ball is juiced — or, even, if it was juiced intentionally, really. The question is how MLB intends to fix the problem — presuming, that is, MLB sees the home-run numbers as a problem in the first place.