Verlander: MLB Juicing The Balls For Increased Homers, Offense
Astros P Justin Verlander said that he "believes '100 percent'" that MLB has "implemented juiced balls to increase offense" this season, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.com. Across MLB, players hit 3,691 home runs in the first half of the season, and are "on pace to hit 6,668 home runs, which would obliterate the record 6,105" hit in '17. Conversations around a "juiced ball have percolated since after the All-Star break" in '15, after which "home runs spiked." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred "commissioned a study to investigate whether the balls were contributing to the home run spike." In June '18, one month after the study was released, MLB "bought Rawlings, the supplier of the official major league ball." Verlander, who will start for the AL in tonight's All-Star Game, said, "It's a f-----g joke. Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings ... They own the f-----g company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened." He added, "I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced." The debate over juiced balls within games is "often bifurcated between the pitchers lamenting the home run rise and the hitters benefiting from it." Blue Jays P Marcus Stroman "did not want to say explicitly" that the ball is different, but "made it clear he echoed the sentiment of his pitching peers" (ESPN.com, 7/8).
NOT SO FAST: Manfred said of the uptick in home runs this season, “It’s easy to get carried away with, ‘You have too many home runs.’ Let’s not forget that our data suggests that fans like home runs. It’s not the worst thing in the world. What’s going on this year is attributable to the baseball." He added, "You’ve got to remember that our baseballs are a handmade product. There’s going to be variations year-to-year.” Manfred said of the pitchers complaining about the uptick, “They don’t complain so much about the fact that X, Y, or Z hit a home run off them. What they say is that it feels different to them, that the baseball has a different feel to them" (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 7/8).
RECORD PACE: In DC, Dave Sheinin writes the "dominant story line" of the MLB season's first half is the "unprecedented rate at which baseballs are leaving" the ballparks. Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw said, "There's obviously something going on." Sheinin notes only six teams have "ever hit 250 or more homers in a single season, led by the Yankees with 267 last year." However, this year "no fewer than 10 teams are on pace to reach or surpass the 250 milestone" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/9). In Houston, Brian Smith wrote MLB "hasn’t fully disputed that its baseballs might be a little … different." Which leaves baseball "staring at a different sort of HR problem." Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, "I don’t think it’s just talk. It’s in the numbers. It’s facts. The ball is carrying out of the ballpark at a record rate for whatever reason you want to believe" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/7).
NOT THE WORSE THING EVER: In Atlanta, Michael Cunningham writes, "I hope the balls are being juiced. Home runs are fun to see and I’m OK with lots of strikeouts to that end." The Braves are "drawing big at SunTrust Park lately because they are good." But it also "doesn’t hurt that there’s a good chance of seeing lots of homers hit by the home team" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 7/9).
CLEAN THEORY: In Boston, Tom Keegan notes Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez "offered his theory for increased home run totals and it had nothing to do with juiced hitters or baseballs." Martinez said, "Hitters are more prepared than they've ever been. I think hitters have more of an idea of what they're going to do, with hitting the ball in the air more." He added, "It's a power-arm league. It's either a walk or a strikeout. It's stuff over command, so I think you see a lot more mistakes over the plate and that, combined with the velocity and trying to hit balls in the air, it's a recipe for home runs" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/9). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes hitters are "bigger, stronger and faster." Pitchers throw harder, which "leads to more strikeouts but also more home runs when a hitter makes solid contact." But the ball "should not escape suspicion" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/9). However, SI's Tom Verducci said, "The next generation has grown up saying the game is played in the air, and that's how they’ve improved their swing” (“First Things First,” FS1, 7/9).
MAYBE IT'S NOT THE BALLS: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale wrote everyone in MLB has "accepted that the baseball is juiced," or as Manfred has said, there is "less drag on the ball causing it to go farther." Nightengale: "What if doping is back in a big way?" It was "only six years ago when MLB and its stringent drug-testing program was rocked with the revelation" of Biogenesis "distributing performance-enhancing drugs to players." Given that recent history, and the "so-called steroid era that preceded it," it is "impossible to be certain that players are no longer taking performance-enhancing drugs." MLB and the MLBPA "point to the league's drug testing policy," which is "now among the most comprehensive in sports." MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem said, "We're pretty confident the increase of home runs does not involve PEDs" (USATODAY.com, 7/8).