Despite Research that Shows Otherwise, MLB Insists There Were No Changes to Postseason Baseballs
Image courtesy of © Adam C. Hagy-USA TODAY SportsData scientist and former FiveThirtyEight journalist Rob Arthur wrote a piece today for Baseball Prospectus. The premise was that the baseball teams played the game with all season is now gone, and that’s quite a damning revelation. If you don’t have access to a subscription at Baseball Prospectus, he did a nice job breaking it down to a bite-sized Twitter thread. The ball itself is causing more drag than it has at any point since 2016. Home runs are down more than 50%, and the playing field established for 162 games has now been abolished.
Arthur went on to clarify that weather is not the culprit for these outcomes. He stated that drag factors in both temperature and pressure, while also noting conditions have been more optimal than normal and don’t have a significant overall impact. Considering the research he provided, and the comments offered up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, I began to think of specific examples.
Earlier I mentioned thinking that something seemed off about that Dodgers and Nationals game to close out the National League Division Series. I didn’t dig in enough to see the amount of wall scrapers typically present on a game-by-game basis, but it certainly seemed abnormal. I did however consider that Will Smith at bat in the bottom of the 9th. His 100 mph exit velocity and 26-degree launch angle resulted in a fly out. During the regular season there was 75 similar occurrences of those inputs, and they resulted in 44 homers with an 83% base hit rate.
This is a Minnesota Twins website, so let’s bring things full circle here. Parker Hageman immediately turned to Monday’s game against the Yankees. I remembered thinking it was odd to see Gleyber Torres barely get out on a well struck ball, but it was Marwin Gonzalez’s blast that immediately looked gone and fell way short that got me. As Parker notes, the Twins 1B had his well struck ball become a pretty small outlier.
If we think back to game one, there were homers hit by both Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz that struck me as odd. Although the ball went out to the opposite field, power sluggers like those two rarely need every extra inch to reach the seats. In doing some research through MLB’s own Statcast service, the balls that left the yard in the Postseason traveled an average of 70 feet shorter than they same circumstances produced during the regular season.
All along, the expectation should’ve been that the sport would walk the baseball back. Despite the home run providing a level of excitement to the game (one that pace of play changes would seemingly be geared towards), Rob Manfred has publicly stated that inquiries would be made too many times for tools of the trade to go untouched. What strikes this writer as irresponsible, unfair, and downright disingenuous is to make these wholesale changes during the season.
The point isn’t to suggest that the Twins or any other team is getting a raw deal because of the deadened baseball. What is fair is for players across the league, most importantly hitters, to have a level of frustration aimed at the governing body of their sport. As former pitcher Dallas Braden puts it, “The guy that deflated footballs in the NFL was drug over the coals by the commissioner of the NFL for altering the sports’ ball. What do WE do when it’s THE COMMISSIONER altering balls like some MAD plastic surgeon? Let the man snip & shape as he sees fit, no issues?”
I’ll never have a problem with seasons being analyzed separately as not all factors remain the same as the calendar changes. I do think you’ve got a significant problem when the integrity of a collective season is being manipulated at the drop of a hat.
Because of this uproar Major League Baseball has now issued a statement on the situation. Unfortunately it does little to address any of the actual problems and avoids any statements that point to real reasons why there's such drastic changes in results.
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