If you’ve watched any Major League Baseball games during the 2022 season, you’ve probably jumped out of your chair for a deep fly ball just to see it caught before the warning track. This happens daily. Fans are now suspicious of the baseball dead. Are the baseballs dead?
These are the Facts
|League Averages||2021||2022(Through 5/4/2022)|
|PA/HR||30.6 PA/HR||41.0 PA/HR|
|Average Exit Velocity||88.8 MPH||88.8 MPH|
|Average Launch Angle||12.6 Degrees||12.5 Degrees|
|Runs Per Game (Single Team)||4.53 Runs||4.08 Runs|
The numbers above show a drastic decline in league-wide offense, but what is the cause of this? You can chalk it up to a shortened Spring Training due to the lockout, or you can say that cold weather is the cause and that it might heat up in the warmer months, and you may be right about both lines of thinking. Last season, the numbers were lower in March and April compared to the season averages. A slow start to offense is normal early in the season, but this season the numbers are even lower in the early months than last season.
|League Averages||2021 (March/April)||2022 (Through 5/4/2022)|
|OPS (On Base%+Slugging%)||.699||.676|
|PA/HR||32.5 PA/HR||41.0 PA/HR|
|Runs Per Game (Single Team)||4.26||4.08|
Trying to Make Sense of the Numbers
The numbers that stick out are the monumental increase in plate appearances per home run and the decrease in runs per game. What is raising a red flag is how there is no change in average exit velocity and a very minimal change in average launch angle. This means that players are hitting the ball as hard as last season and at the same trajectory but the home runs are decreasing. Why? The baseball is dead. If you"ve watched a game, you get a feeling that the ball is different, and the numbers back that theory up.
Players have spoken out about the balls being dead. Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs and The Compound Podcast said when asked if there are new balls “Yeah, there"s dead balls. We were in Atlanta. I watched some guys hit some balls in the 107"s [MPH], 109"s, 105"s; outs. All outs, and [the ball] flies there." Broadcasters have taken notice of the balls being different. In a game against the Dodgers, Giants broadcaster, Duine Kuiper said “It"s the ball," after seeing Dodgers outfielder, Cody Bellinger fly out to deep centerfield.
Why Is MLB Doing This?
Theory #1: MLB Wants Three True Outcomes Baseball to go Away
The three true outcomes in baseball are home runs, walks, and strikeouts. Year by year, three true outcomes baseball has become bigger and bigger. This brand of baseball has less action and has been driving casual fans away. By deadening the baseball, MLB may be hoping players try to hit for more contact, than power. If this is the reason that MLB has deadened the baseballs, then they have not heard about the Steroid Era bringing the game of baseball back to relevance.
Theory #2: The New Humidors Are Deadening the Ball
Starting this season, every MLB stadium stores its baseballs in a humidor. This is MLB"s attempt to standardize the baseball in different environments. In 2021, only 10 stadiums had them. What does a humidor do? A humidor is a climate-controlled chamber that sets baseballs at an average humidity. Before the 2022 season, the common thought was that the humidors would help boost offense because the baseball would be dryer, in theory. This has clearly not been the case. Whether the offense is down because of the humidors or not, they certainly play a role in the 2022 baseball.
Theory #3: MLB Has Overcorrected the ‘Juiced Balls"
Home runs were at an all-time high in 2019. The ball was jumping off the bat like a bouncy ball. MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, admitted to this, per Newsday.
“They [Rawlings] haven"t changed their process in any meaningful way. They haven"t changed their materials. There"s two points that I would make, even in the report last year: The scientists identified the pill in the baseball — not what it was actually composed of — but the centering of the pill in the baseball as something that could be a drag issue. To the extent that the pill is not perfectly centered, the ball wobbles when it"s hit, creates more drag. We think one of the things that may be happening is they"re getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag."
Manfred admitted to this, meaning Major League Baseball knew the baseball was an issue. The 2022 baseballs could be MLB"s way to try and correct the issues of the past baseball. If that"s the case, they completely miscalculated how much to make the baseball dead.
Inconsistent Baseballs Are Not Good For the Product
What other sport tinkers with the object being used more than baseball? A basketball doesn"t change size. A hockey puck doesn"t change weight. A football isn"t supposed to become more or less inflated. Only the game of baseball manipulates the main object being used.
By changing the baseball, you are impacting the results of the games, how much money a player makes, and could be the reason a player doesn"t stay in the big leagues. Major League Baseball needs to find one consistent baseball that is a balance between the juiced baseballs and the dead baseballs. Regardless of the reasoning for them being dead, the league needs to address the issue and fix the baseball.
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