The baseball that is being used by Major League Baseball has changed over the last few seasons. We started seeing it react differently a few years ago. Pitchers could feel it when they picked it up. Some noted that it was slicker. Some noted the seams were different. The baseball reacted differently when thrown. It reacted differently when hit. Guys would come up from the minor leagues and note how the ball in the Majors just jumped off of the bat. Everyone knew it. There was tons of evidence in both the numbers, and in the actual comparison of the baseballs. But Major League Baseball denied, denied, denied.

And then 2019 happened. The ball went from “this is different the last few years” to “holy crap, what is going on?!” – baseball SHATTERED the record for home runs hit in a season. The league saw it’s isolated power (SLG-AVG) jump from 161 to 183 in just one season. That’s easily the highest rate it’s ever been at in Major League history. 2017 is the only season within 15 points of that mark.

But in the postseason the ball isn’t doing what it did in the regular season. There’s all kinds of evidence that it’s different. The statistical evidence shows that it’s not traveling as far based on the exit velocity. There’s also physical evidence that shows that it’s different, too.

Whether Major League Baseball changed the baseball on purpose, either before the season, or for the playoffs can and will be debated for a long time. There are some pretty good theories out there on why they would, and why they couldn’t have. But the fact is simple – the ball is different in the playoffs than it was in the regular season. Jeff Passan reported at ESPN that the Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said his team believed the baseball in the playoff was traveling 4.5 feet less than they did during the regular season. Two other teams analysts confirmed that they believed the ball was not acting the same way as it did in the regular season.

This is a problem with many layers to it. Let’s first start by noting that Rawlings is the official supplier of the Major League baseball. Rawlings is now owned by Major League Baseball. That means that Major League Baseball is in charge of exactly what the manufacturing process is for the ball. They control it. Or, well, they should be able to. One theory that actually makes a lot of sense, though, is that they have little to no quality control over the production of the baseball.

That is one of the larger issues at play here. Even if this isn’t an intentional thing, it’s a very big problem. Ideally, it should be “fixable”. Maybe they don’t care enough to fix it, given that we are now nearly two years in to Major League Baseball owning Rawlings and the ball seems to still be very different than what it used to be. Or maybe they are moving at a snails pace to things like they always do in nearly everything.

Teams are built based around trends in the game. With more and more defensive shifting because of the amount of precise data there is on hitters and where they hit the ball, elite fielders are being outed a little bit for solid fielders who can hit a lot better because the range required is generally less of a factor today than it was a decade ago (or even five years ago). Teams looking at “fly ball hitters” because the baseball is going a little bit further than it used to, are doing so because that’s what the equipment is allowing. To see it completely change once the postseason begins is a very big problem. The Minnesota Twins set a Major League record for home runs hit in a season in 2019. Then the playoffs begin and the baseball is different and home runs are harder to come by simply because of the nature of the ball. That’s a real big problem.

Where it’s also a rather big problem is that right now we have no idea which baseball is going to show up in 2020. Will it remain the “juiced” baseball or are we going to see more of a “deadened” baseball like we are seeing in the playoffs right now? The difference could be huge. As I was writing this article, The Ringer’s Michael Bauman published a similar article and had this within, noting what the difference in the 2019 regular season baseball and 2019 playoff baseball could lead to:

Changing those 2,428 home runs to a proportionate variety of outs and hits, while keeping everything else the same—plate appearances, walks, strikeouts—drops the leaguewide triple slash line from .252/.323/.435 to .239/.312/.380.

Right now offense seems to rely on home runs because it’s pretty much the only way hitters seem to be able to have an advantage in the game. If they can’t catch it…. well, then it works. But everything else works to the pitchers and defenses advantage. All of the data we are now getting thanks to pitch tracking, ball tracking, defensive player tracking – all of that puts the hitter at a disadvantage. Toss in that pitchers are also getting better because they throw harder than ever before, too – and there’s certainly something to the idea that if you want more action on the field, there’s going to need to be massive changes in the game somehow. And it’s going to have to start with the pitchers being placed at a disadvantage in some way.

Juicing the baseball helps offense. Intentional or not, it’s happened. And right now it’s the only thing that keeps putting teams on the board. Strikeouts are up to all-time highs, and no, it’s not mostly due to guys swinging for the fences rather than simply trying to make contact. It’s due to the fact that everyone can knock the bat out of your hands if you aren’t trying to swing hard and drive the ball. The days are gone of the 86 MPH fastball and they aren’t coming back. The “make contact and run” swing doesn’t work anymore. And it’s never going to work again so long as pitchers throw as hard as they do now (and they will).

There’s not exactly an easy answer. The idea of moving the mound back, for me, is a non-starter. That just screams arm injuries for pitchers who have trained their entire lives to pitch at that distance. Perhaps the mound could be lowered, much like what happened in 1969 after pitching just ruined the hitting in 1968.

As we looked at yesterday, nearly all of the players saw the benefits of the 2019 baseball. Michael Bauman noted the difference in what the league would look like if things went back to the “pre-juiced” baseball, and certainly that would apply to the Reds, too. Some players are going to be affected more by the changes than others. Giancarlo Stanton probably won’t see the same effects as a guy like Jose Iglesias. One guy hits the baseball 10 rows deep, while the other guy hits wall-scrapers. Losing 5-10 feet still means Stanton’s hitting homers. For a guy like Iglesias it means he’s flying out to the edge of the warning track.

The offseason certainly could be interesting to see how players who fall into the “could strongly be affected by the change in baseball” group are approached both in free agency or the trade market. The uncertainty of what could happen can dramatically alter the value, or impact that a player could make.

32 Responses

  1. scotly50

    Could it be that the cooler temperatures have something do do with the Home Run rate? Cooler ambient temperatures means dense air. Which certainly would affect ball flight.

    • Broseph

      Right. Some of these games were played in sub 50 and 40 degree weather.

      Before the Cardinals and other teams jump on the hot button topic and blame the baseballs, there should be a more scientific test conducted with controlled factors rather than “the ball must be dead because I hit two warning track balls and those are always homers”

      • Broseph

        I didn’t see that until after looking at the links. Sorry. So climate is factored out.

        I just reviewed the some (my goodness there is a lot) of the mathematics behind a baseball’s drag coefficient. With out a doubt the spin and ball roughness have a large play in the drag along with launch angle and velocity.

        Unless someone has a ball from regular season and ball from post season (this should be easy for any MLB team to get) the. It’s heresay.

        They talk about week to week averages. But let’s see the drag coefficient on those games two or three weeks ago. How many games were played a day 10-12? Now it’s 2-3.

        Out of those 12 games how many showed up with higher drag coefficients and some ridiculously low. There are variations in everything. That’s why I don’t think a simple drag mathematic tool is a conclusive study on what’s happening.

        Could they be right? Sure, absolutely. But get the balls and make comparative measurements rather than inflight data that has too many variables in play.

      • scotly50

        Just because someone makes a chart does not mean they are right. In the second paragraph he used the “climate controlled parks” as a reference to his theory. But the question is where does the air come from in those parks? From the cooler, denser air outside. There is no way the parks are taking humidity out of the air via air-conditioning.

        Better pitching should have at least been mentioned as well. The Cardinals got smoked, they need to quit crying.

      • Doug Gray

        If the Cardinals were the only ones talking about this, sure. But they aren’t. They aren’t even the only team talking about it. Multiple teams are, even ones not in the playoffs at all. And then there’s also all of the independent journalists and scientists that are providing evidence of it. The baseball is different. This is an absolute fact.

        It really feels like some of you saw the word Cardinals and lost all sense of rationality because they brought it up publicly.

      • Broseph

        I agree with Scotly. Consider they may have added been cooling the air creating more moisture I. Those parks. There are just too many factors to consider, not including like I mentioned, the sample size of games played the past week and those during the regular season are much different.

        I bet if we cherry picked 4 of the 16 games played on 8/31, I’m sure I could get similar results. Several of these games are played in different climates so we only have the two indoor facilities that have only had a handful of games to offer us a somewhat controlled testing.

        Until someone grabs a ball from the regular season and the post season and measures/tests, this claim is fallible.

  2. lost11found

    I blame the patriots. They are having rawlings to make the balls with less air…..

    Seriously though. It could be three fold along with some ball fixing. Playoff baseball weather is less favorable for HR, and add to that you have the best teams who genearlly have better pitching, and you are getting their best BP guys nearly every game.

    Schildt’s assertion is some preposterous precision, it also wasn’t the reason for the Cards exit. They didn’t hit the ball hard enough for the 4.5 feet to matter.

    While DG asserts that the days of make contact and run are gone, they may not be. The nationals hit some good liners throughout the series, but also did put the ball in play and took advantage of some leaky Cards’ D.

    • greenmtred

      I blame the Patriots for pretty much everything. As rules go, it rarely disappoints.

    • Mike

      I am with you. I hope that the game has not become just a see how far you can hit it everytime. There is so much more to the game than that to me. The hit and run, the squeeze, the going the other way to beat the shift etc. The game seems to have evolved into an arcade game. Is this really what people want? It should be “how many games can we win” not “how many homers can I hit”.. Seemed to me that Geno left a ton of runners at third with less that two outs that contact would have scored a run. On another note, we all know that the Cardinals are going to cry sabotage. If things do not go their way, it is always someone else’s fault

      • Doug Gray

        It’s not just the Cardinals. They were just the first *team* to say it publicly. There’s zero question that they are absolutely right in what they are saying. We can and have proven it.

        As for is it the game we want? That’s a good question. But the better question is does it matter? Because pitching isn’t going the other direction short of drastic changes in the mound. So unless they decide to move the mound back a few feet so guys can play more “don’t swing as hard as you can” baseball while putting pitchers at larger health risks than they already are at, or they lower the mound, it’s just tough to play baseball the way it was played when the average fastball was 87 MPH.

        Go back and watch a game on Youtube from the mid 80’s and look at the swings most of the players took. That would not work today.

  3. CFD3000

    I haven’t looked at the data, but if I’m understanding correctly the issue looks something like this: during the regular season, a batted ball with a certain exit velocity and launch angle traveled, on average, this many feet. During the postseason, a batted ball with the same profile has traveled, on average, fewer feet.

    If that’s accurate, then the key variables are only weather related (temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction), climate (essentially just elevation and therefore air density), and… the makeup of the ball itself. Once the ball has left the bat with a certain velocity / launch angle profile the pitcher, the batter and the bat are all irrelevant. It’s just physics. If you add in spin rate to the batted ball profile you get even more accurate comparisons.

    This then becomes a VERY interesting question for the playoffs and for next year. If focusing on home runs gets you to the playoffs only to return to the dead ball era in October, that’s a huge (and unfair) advantage for certain teams. And for 2020, do you build a team around home runs, or OBP, ground ball pitchers, or are fly ball guys okay? Perhaps it’s not as dramatic as this example, but would you build an NBA team full of slam dunk guys, or three point sharpshooters if you didn’t know how high the rim would be, or where they’d set the three point line? Fascinating stuff Doug – I’m eager to hear more about this question, and to see how it plays out this October and in 2020.

    • lost11found

      The spin rate and the direction of spin when it comes off the bat make a difference too. Was that in the available data or just angle and speed?

      There could be more to the story that doesn’t fit the desired conclusion.

      • lost11found

        Forgot to add this question.

        Did the article mention any impact that sample size might have on their results? and did they do month-by-month comparison….

      • Doug Gray

        For Rob’s work, the sample size needed is actually incredibly small.

      • lost11found

        but no comment in the article on the spin of the ball leaving the bat as a factor? Angle and velocity are nice, but if the ball is slicing or hooking, that will eat into the distance because as Mark Watney reminded us in ‘The Martian’, ‘pythagoras is a ######.’

        On the sample size issue, what data/principle does he share to show that the SS needs are small? or just does he simply say the SS doesn’t need to be big.

  4. greenmtred

    Hitters are–and always have been–at a relative disadvantage. The very best of them have not gotten on base half the time. The whole pitch velocity matter is interesting, too. I’m pretty certain that I heard Chris Welsh say, at some point this season, that radar readings are taken as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand instead of–as they used to be–when it crosses the plate. I’d suppose that this matters, to some degree. Velocity is an important factor in a pitcher’s effectiveness, but it’s clearly far from being the only factor and may, in fact, not remain as consistently important as hitters adjust to it, as they clearly are.

    • Doug Gray

      The last time the radar guns were taking velo’s at home plate rather than leaving the pitchers had was nearly 30-40 years ago, as some scouts had already moved to the newer guns.

      Velocity isn’t the only thing – got to throw strikes, got to have more than just a fastball – but there’s a very clear relationship with good pitching and higher velocity.

      • greenmtred

        Thanks for that info, Doug. I do agree that velocity matters a lot, but it does seem to be an “everything else being equal” deal. Hitters are clearly adjusting to faster pitches: it wasn’t long ago that 96mph was unusually fast, and now it is virtually hitting speed. I’m also pretty sure that I remember reading that physiologists think that pitch velocities are nearing the limits of possibility, given the limitations of human arms. They might be wrong, of course, but there is alimit, and the hitters have been adjusting right along. Velocity will always matter, but it’s never enough by itself for very long.

  5. Mike

    Airborne. I agree with everything you said. Biggest improvement this off season the team could make would be to fire Bell. I think that would add a minimum of 10 wins next year. The players sure seemed to have more spring in their step when Freddie B was filling in.

    • TR

      If not with the Reds, I think Freddie Benavides will eventually get his shot as a ML manager.

  6. Doug Gray

    The Cardinals aren’t making this up. There’s evidence all over the place about the baseball and it not being the same.

  7. RedNat

    this is great stuff Doug. I think the solution is in the dimensions of the stadiums. the fields are just too small right now. it is like nba players playing on an elementary school court with 19foot three point lines.
    I went to a game at tiger stadium this year and it was very exciting. there was a lot of room in the out field for balls to find holes and allies. singles were turned into doubles and doubles into triples.

    bigger fields and also switching to the new artificial grass they use in football to speed the game up a bit. those are my two ideas to make baseball fun again with more emphasis on speed,defense and baserunning. not just power.

    • Michael Smith


      Sounds like a great idea but the cost associated with moving fences back in smaller stadiums I would imagine is in the millions per venue. I think deadening the ball makes for a much cheaper way to do it.

  8. Aaron B.

    This is about basic fair play gamesmanship.. you can’t change the parameters of the game in mid-season, and yes post season is an extension of the season.. basic common sense and fair play dictates that everything must be static from beginning to end… if you are going to change the ball you do that in the off season, not in the post season… this is the kind of thing that could cause major gambling fatigue here in Vegas.,.. were the betters putting their hard earned pay checks on the over under notified of the change in ball dynamics? No of course not… if this turns out to be true their should be a massive class action suit and I want part of it just for living in this crazy town.

  9. Jack

    A game where it is either home runs or nothing is boring to me so I hate the new balls. On the other hand a game where everyone is hitting .230 and striking out 30 percent of the time is equally boring. They do need to do something. Lower the mound a couple inches? Ban shifts? Maybe both but MLB needs to react quickly and they need to be consistent so teams know how to build their rosters for more than just one season and between regular and playoffs

    • greenmtred

      I agree with you, Jack, but this past season seemed feature all of the boring conditions you mentioned.

  10. Doug Gray

    Well, he’d be wrong. But he crushed that sucker and I loved every second of it.

  11. TR

    Altuve and the Astros get it done. Now take down the Nats, although not easily done.

  12. Doug Gray

    Jeff Luhnow was literally hired by the St. Louis Cardinals because he was friends with the owner’s son in law at McKinsey & Company. And his first job in baseball? VICE PRESIDENT OF BASEBALL DEVELOPMENT. That’s not the bottom. That’s about 15 steps above the bottom, and actually near the top.

    • Doug Gray

      Luhnow got his start in baseball because he was friends with an owners brother. That he eventually turned out to be good at his job matters not at all to your ridiculous point of “HE GOT HIRED BECAUSE OF WHO HE KNEW NOT BECAUSE HE WAS ANY GOOD AT HIS JOB!”

      You stated “Williams basically started at the top, Luhnow on the ground. Luhnow built a career by deeds and success, Williams by family connections.”

      Both got their jobs because of family connections. Luhnow’s first job in baseball was highly valuable on the actual baseball player side of the game. Williams? His first job in baseball was on the business side of the Reds. Luhnow started up the baseball ladder higher than Williams did. Who cares if it came with the team that previously employed him?

      Your presentation is incorrect.

    • Doug Gray

      One guy worked for two teams that were willing to spend money on all phases of the organization. One guy did not.

      It’s hard to take your point seriously when you scream about something at the very beginning that was verifiably incorrect and then try to build your point upon it.

      I’ll just leave it at this: You asked why the Reds aren’t trying to copy the Astros…..

      My dude – they are trying. It seems that Dick Williams finally got through to whoever was holding him back (I’m guessing it was Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty). Have you paid attention to what’s been going on in the organization in the last 14 months? They’ve basically altered the entire farm development system, the scouting directors for both the domestic and international side of things, gone very analytical at the Major League level just starting this year (Tucker Barnhart noted how much more information they get “now” when compared to previous years back near the start of the year), added big time analytical coaches in Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham, and just brought in Kyle Boddy to try and fix their broken pitching development system who is viewed as at the forefront of analytics/video/pitching development.

      If you think that the Reds aren’t trying to copy what the Astros have been doing, you haven’t been paying attention. At all.