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.

41 Responses

  1. JB

    Well I guess since the Reds cant hit this is a good thing for the Reds pitching staff. I thought Baseball was boring last year but this year might put me right to sleep by the 5th inning.

  2. greenmtred

    I take your point, Doug. But isn’t it possible that hitters–after finding out first-hand that homers don’t come easily–will change their approaches? If that were to happen, it might restore action to the game.

    • Michael Smith


      We will see more balls in play but it will be boring outs as long as with a reasonable level of accuracy that teams can figure out where the ball is likely to end up.

      • greenmtred

        You and Doug both make excellent points. My one rejoinder: more balls in play would lead to a number of routine plays–that’s always been the case. But a certain number of them would be difficult and exciting. Not every fly ball to the warning track is an easy catch.

      • Michael Smith


        Valid point that all struck balls are not the same.

    • Doug Gray

      The amount of time that it takes to change an approach, IF one can even do it, is a long play. Changing an approach isn’t always just a “I want to” situation. There’s inherent skill involved, and while these guys are the best players alive, it doesn’t mean that they’ve got the specific skillset needed to become the kind of guy who can “make more contact” or “use the entire fields (against the best pitching on the planet)”. Some guys can. Most of them probably can’t. Pitching is simply too good and has such a huge advantage.

      • jim walker

        Wondering whether to your knowledge there is any hitting guru running a shop like Kyle Boddy trying to get very granular about what happens when ball and bat meet and how hitters can maximize the outcome?

      • TR

        Whether the ball is alive or dead, I’d like to see the Reds return to the hitting philosophy of Tony Perez, see the ball, hit the ball.

    • DaveCT

      My concern is instead of hard line drives hit into the shift, we’ll see weakly hit balls hit into the shift. This idea just seems stupid.

  3. Andrewman

    MLB does everything but what they should do. Lowering the mound night be the way to go. Banning or limiting shifts might work. I’m not the biggest proponent of that one.

    Pitchers are so much better than they have ever been. It is no longer one guy throwing 99. It’s an entire bullpen and multiple starting pitchers.

    • MK

      So how do you ban the shift. Draw circles on the field and say they must stand in the circle?

      • Doug Gray

        Make it simple: Two infielders on each side of second base, and you can’t play on the outfield grass. It doesn’t need to be difficult.

  4. Klugo

    But, wait, I thought they were adamant that the ball wasn’t “juiced” to start with.

    • Bob Purkey

      I am sorry, but eliminating the shift is one of the most outrageous thoughts that I have ever heard. It means that because you “can’t hit it where they ain’t,” I have to allow you to have your way because you can’t adapt.

      Absolutely crazy idea. It would be like in football. my opponent can’t run the ball , so I have to play my defense 20 yards deep and only have 2 D-linemen.

      • jim walker

        In football, offense has to put 7 men on the line of scrimmage, can only have one in motion etc. These rules are to limit the effectiveness of the offense. Killing or restricting the shift in baseball would just be the other side of this coin to offset a defensive over advantage as I see it,

      • Klugo

        I agree, but why are are you yelling at ME??

      • Melvin

        I agree about eliminating the shift. It’s crazy. As I’ve said before a major league hitter who is able to make contact, which I assume he can since he is in the majors, if we works at it and puts his heart into it, should be able to at least make light contact (which is all that is necessary) and hit the ball the other way enough to eliminate the shift for the most part.

      • Jimbo44CN

        I completely agree. These players are the best there is. Why can’t most of them bunt? Because they dont practice it enough to be good at it. The same holds true with the shift. They would have to get the repetitions in to get better at hitting it the other way. When enough of them started to do that instead of swinging out of their shoes every time, goodbye shift.

  5. Jon Ryker

    Without contact, the game is inherently dull. Also, you don’t beat good teams without focusing on it. Those raised on fantasy baseball don’t understand this. Those raised on actual baseball do.

  6. Matthew ONeal

    The statement about 5 feet could mean a lot to somebody made me think of Jay Bruce. I don’t have any stats to support it, this is just coming from off the top of my head, but I feel like that dude has more warning track flyouts than anyone else in the game, especially when he was a Red. If he could’ve gotten 5 more feet on all those hacks, who knows how many more career homers he’d have. And how Reds games of the early-mid 10s may have changed!

    • jim walker

      Also think about how we could almost see the summer heat sap the strength of Adam Duvall and turn him into a warning track flyout vs the home run hitter he would be in the first half of the season,

  7. Doc

    Thank goodness. Now maybe there will be some action return to the game. The three batter rule for relief pitchers did not result in all the doom and gloom forecast for that change; neither will this move.

    The game is more boring than watching paint dry, with every hitter swinging for the fences, and missing with regularity. Maybe some of these guys will actually learn to bunt to beat shifts if they can no longer jack it out. Maybe the line drive spray hitter will have a resurgence. Maybe a running game will return to the game. More balls in play means more base running. Maybe I’ll even be able to watch a whole game. This list of possibilities goes on.

    Doug said the extra five feet would make a difference to some guys. Actually, that is 5%, which is five feet per one hundred feet, so at the wall it is 15-20 feet less. Maybe outfielders will actually have to field.

    • Jon Ryker

      The next step is to make the outfields bigger. Let’s get some athletes back into the game instead of overpaid beer-league softball players.

      • doofus

        “Let’s get some athletes back into the game instead of overpaid beer-league softball players.” Eugenio would not have a job.

      • JayTheRed

        Oh come on Kevin Mitchell was a big guy and it wasn’t a lot of muscle it was chub and he had a pretty good career as a player.

        I’ll never forget my little brother yell from the outfield stands in the lower level when Mitchell missed a fly ball out.
        “Hey Mitchell you want another donut!!!” My brother was I think 8 at the time and my parents and I were really embarrassed.

        Anyway there have been all sizes of players as long as I can remember.

  8. TomsRiver Reds Fan

    Just seen the Mets are signing Jonathan Villar, so that ship sailed.

    I think eventually the changes to the ball will be good. Maybe the more athletic type player with a complete game will be valued more. I am tired of watching everyone swing for the fences all the time. It is like watching a church softball game for entertainment.

    • Grand Salami

      Bring back Todd Frazier, right Tom’s River? This removes their safety net so it’s make a real move via trade or stand pat.

  9. DataDumpster

    I agree with the many points made that this change may not bring the intended result. But, when you implement a change just 2 weeks before spring training, how do you expect the teams to adjust? David Bell’s analytics engine must be hissing and smoking by now. Do you expect all the players and coaches to be able to change their strategy and swing planes nearly instantaneously?

    The cynical (but realistic) observer might think this is another owner’s ploy to weaken hitter performance and lower long term contracts. If that many home runs turn into flyouts that we will have a 4 outcome AB, which doesn’t benefit the players or fans…They either didn’t think this through or they are already looking at a long term problem of decreasing attendance for years and probably lower TV contracts as the older fans lose interest or die. They have already lost the younger crowd. But, I’m sure there will be plenty of bobbleheads to go around (or be sold like the cutouts).

    • jim walker

      Agree on the lateness of the change; and, is anyone willing to bet the farm against that by opening day the universal designated hitter (love or hate it) will be back in the NL? If so I’ve got some shares in a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll sell them.

    • MK

      Don’t think the changes that will be necessary can be adjusted for until you see how the new ball works in game action. Hopefully it will cause hitters to shorten up which will beat the shift. I personally like pitchers duels, but need to see the height of the stitches and how the new ball plays. Baseball is a game of adjustments. This is just another.

  10. west larry

    off point, but mets are signing Villar – looks like the reds let another shortstop get away!

  11. Wayne Nabors

    It’s official now, I really believe reds never tried,I believe krall planned on farmer all along

    • DataDumpster

      Villar get $3.55m, the Reds offered $2m plus “incentives”, i.e. he would actually get to start for the Reds instead of riding the bench for the Mets. Not surprisingly, he didn’t bite. Got to feel a little sorry for Krall, with all the talk but not enough money allocated to have decent follow through.

      Farmer is a good player to have on any team for utility purposes. Well, he’s got 10 MLB starts as a SS and a .240 average, so he is no worse than anybody else on the Reds. Trust it, as David Bell would say.

  12. Rednat

    very good piece Doug. you hit the nail on the head, “Pitching is simply to far ahead of hitting today”. I think the major question is why is pitching so dominant? you mentioned a lot of good points in the article but I think the “culture of pitching ” is just dominant in baseball right now, at least in this country. And it starts at a young age. when I was growing up we all wanted to be like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson. these kids now idolize pitchers more. i think Hunter Greene is the perfect example. here you have the most athletic draft pick since Eric Davis and he has made it clear that he wants to be a starting pitcher. Michael Lorenzen is another example. the best athletes in the game are gravitating towards pitching

    • scotly50

      I do not think one can discount the affect shifting defensive positioning has on the overall pitching stats. Left-handed batters are unfairly penalized when shifting, an equalization would have right handers run to third base when they bat.
      Set parameters for the shift.

  13. KDJ

    Has the distance to the plate always been 60′ 6″? Wondering what moving it back an extra 6 – 12 inches would do.

    • Doug Gray

      Always? No. That became the official distance in 1893 and it’s been that way since.

      Kyle Boddy talked about moving the mound back this offseason and he spoke about how that might actually help the pitchers because it would allow pitches to move and break more than they do now. Velocity would probably take a very small hit, though.

  14. RiverCity Redleg

    you guys are having a good debate whether this is good for baseball or not. To which, I do no not know. However, I do know that the Reds broke the MLB record last season on % of runs via the HR. So, if this change is true, the Reds may not score a run this year. This hurts the Reds more than any other club, so I don’t like it. Between this and missing out on every SS available on two continents, it does not bode well for the good guys. Don’t even remind me that we also let our Cy Young winner walk.

  15. Gonzo Reds

    Was hearing on MLB radio that they allow a 10% variance in baseballs and it was discovered that different batches of balls were used during the year last year with no explanation of who got which ball when. It’s possible for instance that the Reds got all deader balls than say the Cardinals.

    I’m going with the theory that Bauer got the benefit of the better balls for pitchers plus if you look at the teams he faced most were cellar dwellers. This would have contributed to his success so he’s in no way worth $40M. On the flip side perhaps our hitting will be better this year with more consistent and hitter friendly balls than last year.

    Just spitballing but if you allow a 10% difference in batches of balls this is the kind of speculation you allow.

  16. doofus

    “Let’s get some athletes back into the game instead of overpaid beer-league softball players.” Eugenio would not have a job.