Baseball has always been labeled as the “thinking man’s game.” With a heavy emphasis on strategy and anticipation, this label comes as no surprise to those who follow the sport so adamantly.
However, if one were to look at the surge of home runs already hit this season, it may be time to rethink this association. Perhaps “brains over brawn” is being phased out in favor of its inverse.
According to Forbes.com, through the first 10 weeks of the 2019 MLB season, 43 players are on pace to hit 35 home runs. Statcast, the tracking technology implemented by the MLB that allows for the analysis of baseball data, has recorded that 43 of the home runs hit this year have traveled further than 450 feet.
But the increase in home runs isn’t just occurring at the major league level. The minor league affiliate games are seeing a drastic uptick as well. According to Baseball America, a well-known resource and content provider of all minor league baseball has concluded that “triple-A hitters are hitting home runs at a rate of 135% of last year’s rate.”
Now, one would assume that since players often move between Triple-A and the MLB quite often due to rehab assignments or to gain more experience, that this rise in home runs makes logical sense. The two levels of play are fairly similar after all. However, there seems to be a more obvious common denominator. This is the first year that the MiLB is using MLB baseballs. It appears this is more than a coincidence.
The home run rate per year has steadily increased significantly since 2014. During this year, 4,186 home runs were recorded. The current MLB record of 6,105 was accomplished in 2017. That’s almost 2,000 more home runs hit in a span of only 4 years. During the 2017 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred denied the notion that the baseball had been altered in any way. He is on the record saying, “…there’s nothing that’s significantly different in terms of the baseball that would account for the sorts of changes that we’ve seen.”
However, after an independent study conducted last year, it was determined that the baseballs being used the past several seasons have less drag. A baseball with less drag will experience less resistance while flying through the air. This results in more balls landing on the opposite side of the outfield fence. But why did the drag coefficient change?
With the pace that home runs are being hit this year, there is no denying that something about the balls is different. When confronted with this issue again this season, Rob Manfred conceded that the baseballs may very well be the reason for the increased home runs, but still defended the idea that the MLB was responsible for the change. He concludes that since the baseballs are made with natural materials there are going to be variations in the baseballs. This is something that is out of his control.
It seems that Rob Manfred and the MLB’s explanations of the manufacturing of the baseball and its effects on home runs seems to change whenever new evidence or studies are conducted. There are many possible theories as to why the MLB is on pace to shatter the previous home run record in 2019. Could it be the players are getting better? The pitchers are getting worse? The weather is changing at a rapid rate? Yes, these have all been suggested.
The only thing that seems a bit off is the explanation regarding the variations in the materials that make up the baseball. If this were the case, then the home run rate would… well… vary. But instead, it is steadily increasing each year since 2014.
In reference to the baseballs being juiced, Boston Red Sox pitcher, David Price may be on to something when he said, “Come on, just tell us. We all see it. Just come clean and say it.”