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Front Page: Despite Research that Shows Otherwise, MLB Insists There Were No Changes to Postseason Baseballs


Whether you have been watching the postseason from inside a stadium or the friendly confines of your house, there’s been something fishy about the action. Did you notice that the Nationals and Dodgers game featured more than a few opportunities to rob a home run in game 5? How about that Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz could barely squeak their blasts out of Yankee Stadium in game 1? Well, it appears there’s something to it, and that’s not a good discovery for Major League Baseball.Data 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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This is why records really cannot be compared.  What would Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds have done this year?

 

I agree that this is what you can’t compare across seasons, and absolutely across eras. It’s inexcusable though for the sport to make a change this drastic in the midst of a season.

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On the bright side, we know what next year's ball will be like now. And the narrative about how the pitcher's adjusted and balance has been restored or some garbage like that.

 

Totally expected something like this to come next year (though it seems a bit too much), but it can’t happen between the regular and post season.

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They did a ball change before the 2017 offseason as well. The more lively ball that was seen that offseason showed up roughly midseason in 2018.

 

Ridiculous how bad the MLB explanation sounds. Manfred has irked both sides of the negotiating table. We'll be dealing with a major mess in the CBA soon as the owners are growingly unhappy with him and the players definitely don't like him.

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Would be interesting if someone had the time and went back through all the fly-outs, looked at their launch angle and exit velo, compared to in-season batted balls with the exact parameters, and then compared to the dimension of the parks the ALDS games were in.

 

Would be interesting to see how many more HRs the Twins and Yankees could have had, and if that would have made the series any more entertaining (or if it would at least make us feel a little better about the team's ALDS performance :P)

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

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Here's another possible explanation, from the article's author:

 

 

So playoff baseballs are produced separately (they probably have a special logo or something). It's possible they do sit longer in storage, under different conditions, than other balls.

 

If you click the embedded tweet, there's more to this interesting exchange.

Edited by spycake
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Would be interesting if someone had the time and went back through all the fly-outs, looked at their launch angle and exit velo, compared to in-season batted balls with the exact parameters, and then compared to the dimension of the parks the ALDS games were in.

 

Would be interesting to see how many more HRs the Twins and Yankees could have had, and if that would have made the series any more entertaining (or if it would at least make us feel a little better about the team's ALDS performance :P)

I was doing some of this on Twitter while feeding a baby last night haha. A couple of the Astros batted balls that looked launched went absolutely nowhere.

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

They didn't tell anyone that they increased the core density of the baseballs prior to this season, and then acted as if they were oblivious to the results despite research pointing out what had happened. Manfred has consistently run so many different initiatives to impact and influence the game, it's nuts.

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

I'm going to need more evidence to believe there's anything to the idea that different baseballs were used in the playoffs. 

 

Fun conspiracy theory, but the logistics of something like this make in unlikely in the extreme. 

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

This is the same organization that said "Nah, nothing is different with the ball." earlier this year... until the data was so bonkers they had to say something about it. I don't expect them to be transparent on this topic at all.

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

You left out the part about him twirling his mustache and chuckling mwah-ha-ha! Good satire sweats the details.

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They didn't tell anyone that they increased the core density of the baseballs prior to this season, and then acted as if they were oblivious to the results despite research pointing out what had happened. Manfred has consistently run so many different initiatives to impact and influence the game, it's nuts.

But that's assuming it was a known, intentional change to the ball that they made before the season. Maybe they were just cutting costs in ball production and this was an unintended side effect. And subsequent denials would be more to save face about their carelessness than hide any conspiracy.

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I don't think a league switching the specs of a baseball is such an unprecedented conspiracy -- Japan's commissioner resigned in shame after they admitted to secretly adjusting the baseball in efforts to boost offensive production -- and there is historical evidence that altering the makeup of the baseball production has unintentional consequences on how the ball travels. I don't know if this was an intentional ploy (I tend to believe this wasn't a shadowy parking garage exchange of de-juiced baseballs) or just the inclusion of balls that were manufactured differently for the postseason. 

 

As far as Rob's research goes, I have complete faith that he conducted his study as thoroughly as possible. When you look at his thread, you can see he addresses almost every concern (weather, wind, sample size, etc). There is something there. 

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I don't think a league switching the specs of a baseball is such an unprecedented conspiracy -- Japan's commissioner resigned in shame after they admitted to secretly adjusting the baseball in efforts to boost offensive production

The Japanese "juiced ball" saga had more complicated origins than simply trying to boost offense, though -- the ball had been changed a few years prior to bring it in line with the North American ball, which suppressed offense too much. And then they asked the manufacturer to make it springier. I don't know why they kept it secret, though, but there's obviously many factors of Japanese baseball that are beyond my understanding.

 

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1847398-how-good-is-the-japanese-professional-baseball-league

 

 

 

 

You've probably heard about the juiced ball scandal in NPB, one that helped offensive numbers skyrocket and ultimately forced commissioner Ryozo Kato's resignation. But just as important is what happened before the ball was juiced for 2013.

According to the Bangkok Post (by way of Jay Jaffe of SI.com), it was in 2011 that Kato originally called for the league's balls to be altered so they would be more in line with those in the States. This essentially involved making them less springy and, thus, less hitter-friendly.
 

The change resulted in the desired effect. Too much so, in fact.

...

The 2004 season notwithstanding, there was already less power to be found in NPB than there was in MLB. Then along came the new baseballs, which sucked power out of the league in a big way.

 

And the commissioner may have just been a fall guy -- he was actually a diplomat (ambassador to the US from 2001-2008) and only fairly recently had been named to the post. It makes sense that these were decisions he may not have been involved in (and his resignation over them may have been the product of very different cultural expectations rather than a sign of how significant the "scandal" was).

 

By comparison, Manfred is a baseball lifer (20-30 years now) and MLB probably doesn't have the same kind of silent, behind-the-curtain committee controlling things behind him. Not to mention the difference in size/scope of MLB and NPB, or the USA and Japan.

 

I'm not sure if this example tells us much about the likelihood of a conspiracy in US baseball, to juice the ball (and now de-juice it?) for more esoteric reasons.

Edited by spycake
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I'm not buying this altered baseballs thing.  Its such a small sample size compared to the 2019 season.  There have been like one regular season day worth of playoff games.

 

Complain all you want about a 99 MPH Sano hit at 27 degrees that went 340 feet.  Eric Sogard hit one 98 MPH at 27 degrees and it was a 380 foot homerun in game 4 of the Rays series.  There are more than 2 factors in distance a baseball travels.  Sano hitting one 70 feet further with the same velocity and angle shouldn't be surprising.  August in Texas vs October in New York hmmm.

 

According to baseball reference MLB hit 6776 homeruns in 4848 games, 1.39 Homeruns per game.  There have been 52 homeruns in 20 games so far in the playoffs. Considering the homerun total is 2 teams combined we will call it 26 homeruns in 20 games for a per team average (or 52 homeruns in 40 games), that is 1.3 homeruns per game.  1.39 vs 1.3.

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

I am quoting you because of your interesting “storage facility” comment. I’m not calling it an MLB conspiracy, but there could still be shenanigans among third parties, maybe? What were the o/u betting lines for runs scored in the first round? Like I said, I’m not ready to buy in to the MLB conspiracy narrative, but on the other hand I am very sure there are very clever criminals operating in our midst.
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I haven't read any articles to understand the details of the findings, but it is my understanding that most of the damning data are not from batted balls. I think the allegation was based more on how pitched balls have behaved because that's a much more consistent set of data. Apparently pitched balls in the postseason are slowing much more between leaving the pitcher's hand and landing in the catchers mitt compared to the regular season.

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I'm intrigued by the data and the discussion, but does anyone really think MLB could keep a lid on something like this? It's not quite JFK conspiracy level, but the MLB central office isn't exactly staffed by trained agents of espionage either. Enough people would be involved to make me skeptical. It's not like Manfred personally goes into a storage facility alone and emerges with the box of baseballs to use for each game.

Would that many people be involved though? I can’t imagine they need a whole division to order baseballs. I picture George Costanza who reports to some one else who has additional duties (that’d be Mr.Wilhelm obviously). No idea if this un-juiced ball theory has anything behind it, but it would seem like a 2-3 person conspiracy most likely.

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So.... On more than one occasion I was astonished a fly ball was easily caught in the twins Yankee series. Not just twins either... An altered ball would change the entire game, not just home runs.

 

Twins should dive into this.... and sue for lost wages if they think they can prove it. After watching the division series, an altered ball would explain a lot.

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