Juiced Baseballs: Are 2019 MLB Stats a Joke?
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsBecause Major League Baseball can’t seem to get out of its own way, a big storyline of this season that also became a focus during the All-Star break is the current state of the actual baseball. Justin Verlander went so far as to say “Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke.”
There’s been some really amazing reporting and scientific studies done on the ball itself that have shown its current composition is different, and the end result is a ball that travels farther than ever before. The ball creates less drag, has thicker laces and is actually more round (I’ll include links to the excellent work others have done on these subjects at the bottom of this article).
The end result is home runs and in particular home run-to-fly ball ratio is up. I’m not going to deny either of those things. If we just take a look at run scoring and offense in general, however, things don’t actually look all that out of whack when compared to the past 25 years of baseball.
Below is a graph that shows the average number of runs per game over the past 25 years. Things have definitely been on an upward trend the past few seasons, but as you can see, pitchers enjoyed quite a comfortable stretch from about 2007-14.
A similar look into slugging percentage shows the same type of trend.
Taking a look at things from this perspective, I don’t feel it’s fair to say something like the game is turning into a joke. Verlander himself is managing to pitch to a 2.98 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and has limited opponents to a .168/.221/.386 batting line (.607 OPS). This is despite giving up a league-high 26 home runs. It’s also fair to point out that his home ballpark is an excellent home run hitter’s environment.
If you want to say the past 25 years is a poor choice in sample, I guess then you’re going to have a bit of a different perspective. A lot of this conversation comes down to what you think is supposed to be “normal” for Major League Baseball.
If you want to really be a traditionalist, the amount of scoring back in the late-1800s was actually much higher than it is right now. Even shifting the focus a little bit closer, the 1920s and 1930s had many seasons in which more runs were scored than they are today. On the other hand, in the 10-year span from 1963-1972 runs were greatly suppressed. Things are constantly changing.
Along with the baseball, we’re seeing bigger, faster and stronger players than ever. Advances in technology even over the past five years have dramatically changed the way players train and design their pitches or swings for maximum effectiveness. Many hitters have put an emphasis on getting the ball in the air, pitchers have searched for ways to combat that approach. The cat and mouse game continues.
Below is a video in which I provide some more information on this topic and share some more of my opinions. Let me know what you think. Should there be a giant asterisk next to this season's stats?
Jeff Passan’s original reporting on Justin Verlander’s thoughts.
ESPN’s report on Rob Manfred’s response.
Astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills’ examination of the ball.
Jayson Stark’s investigation into possible factors that could have resulted in the homer surge.
Rob Arther’s piece on the drag/aerodynamics of the 2019 ball.
Bob Nightangale’s reporting on what pitchers are saying about the 2019 ball.
Juiced ball and home run discussions from the Twins Daily forums.
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