Major League Baseball and Rawlings, which is owned by Major League Baseball, are changing the baseball for the 2021 season according to a memo obtained by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. There’s some science-stuff in the article if you want to try to dive into it, but it’s also worth noting that there’s not enough information known about the change in the baseball to truly know how much it’s likely going to change the way the ball moves through the air. While we know that the way the inside is changing a little bit, we don’t know how that will effect the drag on the ball – which is the larger issue. Estimations from the article by Rosenthal and Eno Sarris were that this would reduce home runs by about 5%. That’s a moving target, though, because we don’t know the effects on the drag.
All of that said, there’s a lot more to this that probably warrant discussing. Teams just found out about this on Friday. That was less than two weeks before players start reporting to spring training. It would seem that it would have been nice to know during the offseason when teams were building their rosters that the ball was changing and that guys will almost assuredly not be able to hit it as far. For some players, that extra 5 feet on a fly ball could be a significant difference.
I’m hardly the first one to bring this up today, as I’ve seen it all over the twitter-sphere from other “baseball people”, but deadening the baseball is only going to hurt the game. While we are more into a three true outcome (walks, homers, strikeouts) era than ever before, this isn’t going to make this better. What’s far more likely to happen is we just get to more of a two outcome situation with walks and strikeouts, mixed in with a lot of fly outs and or weak contact because guys simply try to make more contact but since, as Joe Sheehan points out, pitchers today are witches, batters will just hit worse on contact. Scoring is going to be tougher if we believe what the science is telling us about the baseball.
Major League Baseball wants to “fix” the dynamic between pitching and hitting to add more action to the game. They don’t seem to understand what the issue is, which is that pitching is simply too far ahead of hitting today. There are a lot of reasons for that – larger pitching staffs that allow pitchers to “air it out” more, meaning more velocity, more snap on breaking balls, the training for velocity now that it’s better understood of how to actually do so, the advancements in scouting reports thanks to the computerization of every single pitch thrown by a pitcher to a hitter over the last decade plus thanks to Pitch F/X, Trackman, and now Hawk-Eye that allows every single weakness to be quickly found in a hitter, better understanding of what types of pitches are effective thanks to this same stuff – almost every technological advancement in baseball over the last decade-and-a-half has been to the benefit of pitchers and to the detriment of hitters.
If Major League Baseball wants to hitters to make more contact, changing the baseball isn’t the solution. Finding a way to make pitchers less effective is. Lowering the mound could be one possible solution to help that. Deadening the baseball isn’t. Changing the baseball probably isn’t, either, unless there’s a way they can find that will alter both the way the ball moves over 60′ 6″ as well as over 400′ so that it can both lead to more contact by the hitters, but also make it so the ball doesn’t wind up flying over the fence at a far higher rate than in the past.
The 2021 season is going to be interesting to watch with regards to how the ball flies. Buckle up.