MLB's Research On Ball Controversy Absolves Manufacturer Rawlings
MLB's panel of commissioned scientists said that baseballs with a lower seam height coupled with a "'change in player behavior' were among the primary causes of the power surge that resulted in players hitting a record 6,776 home runs" this year, according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The panel's report released yesterday attributed 60% of the spike to "less wind resistance on the balls themselves" and 40% to what it called "'launch conditions' -- essentially differences in how batters swing." Throughout this season, pitchers across the sport "questioned whether the league instructed Rawlings," the MLB-owned baseball manufacturer, to "intentionally 'juice' them to generate offense.'" The report "dismissed that theory." MLB has "no interest" in devising a synthetic ball that "might avoid some of the unpredictability that continues to frustrate players and general managers who just want to know what kind of ball they're using." This marked the "second study into the mysterious rise of home runs in the last two years," after a "similar boom" from '15-'17. This study comes "closer to identifying an explanation: inconsistency in the height of the seams, which the professors said can have a dramatic effect on how the ball behaves" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/12).
PULP FICTION? Rawlings CEO Michael Zlaket yesterday said, "We have never been asked to juice or dejuice a baseball, and we've never done anything of the sort, never would on our own. There's always going to be some inconsistency in the product. It's created by the fact that it's natural materials, and the production process has a lot of manual steps" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/11). MLB Senior VP/League Economics & Operations Morgan Sword said, "One of the things we're going to have to do is accept the fact the baseball is going to vary. The baseball has varied in its performance probably for the entire history of our sport" (USA TODAY, 12/12).
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE: In Boston, Julian McWilliams writes the "conclusion that -- even without a change in the manufacturing process -- handmade baseballs made from natural materials can behave in very different ways from year to year and even from one baseball to another is jarring." After all, what a ball does in flight can have a "significant impact on players either dramatically exceeding or underperforming their projections. Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom said, "The notion that we might have studied something and come away feeling like we have a valuable takeaway but we still don't understand a lot of it ... kind of sums up just about everything we do. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, there's a lot about this game that we don't know. I think there always will be" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/12).