A mountain of evidence — both plain and scientific — led to the conclusion that Major League Baseball was using juice-up baseballs during the 2019 season. Or at least until the playoffs, when they maybe changed the ball again.
The Twins set a record with 307 regular season home runs, while several other teams passed the old record of 267.
And all sorts of new data about exit velocity and drag coefficient told us that the super-sized numbers were coming as a result of a ball that was behaving differently than in past years.
Baseball, of course, denied it — or at least denied doing anything intentional about the ball it uses, over which it has total control. "[MLB] has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball … There is no desire on part of ownership to increase the number of home runs in the game," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in July 2019.
So it's interesting that now, two years later, a memo seems to suggest that MLB is doing exactly what Manfred said it didn't do two years ago: intentionally altering the baseball, albeit slightly, in order to impact outcomes.
Per reporting from multiple outlets, including the Associated Press, MLB has "slightly deadened its baseballs amid a years-long surge in home runs" and has informed teams of this alteration in a private memo.
It sounds like the effect of the change is slight — a difference of one to two feet less carry on fly balls that are home run distance (over 375 feet) — but if you go deep into the weeds on the subject you can find out that even that slight change could have the overall effect of reducing home runs by 5% this season.
This will impact different players in different ways and the overall game in a meaningful way. For instance, if you want to get really granular you should look at a series of tweets from @choice_fielder, who takes a look at what players would have been most impacted in recent years had the projected 2021 ball been in play.
The data suggests that Twins slugger Nelson Cruz, for instance — who hit 57 home runs in 2019 and the shortened 2020 season combined — would have hit just 53 based on where and how far he hits his taters, a 7% decrease.
But the real story here is one I pointed out at the start of Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
More troubling than any individual impact — which should pretty much be a wash given that a team's pitchers (like the Twins, for example) will benefit as much as its hitters will suffer — is both the lack of transparency on MLB's part and the fact that its leaders feel the need to constantly fiddle with the ball to produce different results.
We're only finding out about this year's ball change because of a leaked memo, though I'm sure science would have figured it out soon enough after the year started and some balls started dying on the warning track.
It erodes trust with fans and players — and probably messes with the heads of the latter. Here, for example, is a recent tweet off the dead ball news from Twins catcher Mitch Garver, who had a monster breakout year in 2019 and then regressed in 2020.
Maybe, and this is me just spitballing: MLB should tell everyone when and why they are making changes to something as fundamental as the ball their sport uses.
Or better yet: Stop messing with it entirely and just let the game evolve how it will evolve.