By this point, we’ve all been indoctrinated in the Church of Juiced Baseballs. We’re living through a multiple-season home run spike and while it’s been years of data-tracking and ball-testing and speculating, no one knew for sure why the balls were going over the outer boundaries of an arbitrarily shaped playing field more often than they did a few years ago.
But now, good news. A committee of experts and scientists has released a study on MLB’s behalf about the home run spike, confirming the balls are flying farther thanks to better carry and reduced drag. The downside is that this crack team of scientists still has no definitive answer as to why balls are doing that.
The confirmation is meaningful though, as MLB repeatedly denied that the balls hadn’t changed in any way even as extensive ongoing research by people like Five Thirty-Eight’s Rob Arthur and The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh pointed to all the reasons that was the case and why it was happening.
Now, confirmation at last. The report reveals that reduced drag on ball surfaces and other differences in aerodynamic properties contributed to fly balls flying as much as six feet farther consistently, which is far enough that it would easily explain the spike in home runs.
But as to why the ball is changed, they’ve got no clue. Study chair Dr. Alan Nathan told Yahoo Sports,
“It was something of an unsatisfying result. We had a set of baseballs that had a much higher than average drag. We had a set of baseballs that had a much lower average drag. We asked ourselves: ‘What’s the difference between these baseballs?’
“We cannot find a single property that we can actually measure other than the drag itself that would account for it … We do admit that we do not understand this.”
That’s a discouraging as hell quote, but you’d probably feel the same letdown if you did all this work and got a definitive answer only to fail when it comes to the reasoning behind that answer. Proof, but few details to explain it.
They even visited the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica where the balls are made, but no dice. They dismissed the weather, the seams (as many pitchers have chosen as their reasoning), the core, a change in manufacturing or specs, or anything pitchers are specifically doing. Even with all those things it’s not, we remain without a reason it is.
Which, if you’re thinking about this as a cause and effect deal, means that the league can’t fix the balls and we get to continue watching way more home runs each season than usual. As long as they remain without a reason, they also remain without a way to stop this trend.
That doesn’t mean they won’t try though. The league released a list of things they will implement to try and reverse whatever change is actually at play here. Including “standards for mud rubbing” which sufficiently fills today’s quota for dirty phrases in official MLB releases.
My major question is what exactly the Scientific Advisory Council will be advising on in those “other science-related topics.” The best way to create an MLB-owned island where dinosaurs have returned to life and they’ll never escape no way no how? Whether Flubber is a real scientific possibility so Rob Manfred can have a dancing green glob of goop on his desk at all times?
The possibilities are endless. It seems like they have their work cut out for them with the baseballs, but once that’s tied up in a bow and the home run spike fizzles out, they should keep that committee together and have some fun. With mud rubbing, even.