Changes to the baseball? What changes to the baseball? Oh those changes to the baseball. Well there have been some changes to the baseball, but we didn’t do it. Well, we did do it, but not on purpose. And if we did do it on purpose, we didn’t want these results. But if we did want these results, it’s not like the fans don’t want it, too!
If you’re short on time, that’s essentially the Commissioner’s espoused position on the material changes to the baseballs, created and used by MLB, and the extreme effects they’ve had on both pitchers and hitters, without their input or approval. The situation is clearly changing the game in really obvious, significant ways, and it’s frustrating that the conversation is not more transparent. Everyone needs to get on the same page so that the issue can be addressed in a clear, helpful manner.
The problem is that MLB is still only dipping its toe into these waters.
Indeed, according to Rob Manfred, MLB has “done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” which is good to know … and not really the point, now, is it? We already know the baseball is different. We can see it in the results on the field … and we can see it on paper on the several, independent lab tests that have already gone down. But Manfred is more focused on whether MLB did it on purpose – which I understand has been a recent, prominent criticism – not whether it’s happening and what, if anything, they’re going to do about it.
For what it’s worth, Manfred was concerned about the often under-discussed other-half of the problem: the effect on grip for pitchers. “Pitchers have raised issues … about the tackiness and seams on the baseball, and we do believe those could be issues.” Oh, swell.
If balls are not only flying further, but are more difficult for pitchers to grip and command, there can be a bit of compounding issue here. Sure, some of it is self-inflicted – as players realize home runs are more obtainable, they try to hit more home runs at the expense of everything else – but it’s tough to blame them for that. And given that the game is on pace to hit something like a 1,000 more HRs than any season at the height of the Steroid Era, I think there’s cause for concern.
But even as he concedes a little, Manfred can’t help but try to have his cake and eat it, too.
For example, the players are criticizing the league, because any change – like the one to the baseball – is supposed to be passed by them first, which obviously did not happen in this case, because no one knows what’s going on, right? Well, in response, Manfred #1 said there is “no desire among ownership to increase homers in the game … to the contrary, [owners] are concerned about how many we have.” Cool. We’re all on the same page. Well, everyone except Manfred #2: “It’s easy to get carried away with ‘you have too many home runs.’ Let’s not forget that our fan data suggests fans like home runs. It’s not the worst thing in the world.”
So … which is it?
Are we supposed to be concerned about how many homers we have, or is it something YOU THINK is fan-pleasing, and, thus, no big deal? Maybe I have my tinfoil hat on too tight, but this just seems like a case of we were called out, so here’s a bunch of technically true but deflecting statements. And it’s not even the end of it.
Manfred does say he thinks what’s going on this year is “attributable to the baseball,” specifically because it has less drag, but then reminds folks that “our baseball is a handmade product and there is going to be variation year to year.”
Well, first of all, this isn’t something that started this year … changes to the ball started impacting home run rates way back after the All-Star break in 2015. Second, this isn’t a slight variation in a few of the baseballs. This is a systemic change that … well, here’s how Justin Verlander put it.
“It’s a f—ing joke. Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke,” Verlander said Monday. “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.”
If home run rates suddenly decline in the near-term future, I guess we’ll have to presume MLB … figured out the issue.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.