Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Come back, Masahiro: MLB is loosening its balls, and your HR rate would be about to plummet

Well, I didn't have this on my 2021 Sports Culture bingo card: 

The MLB deep state has been tinkering with the game's genetic code - the ball, itself - and these mutant variants could mean 5 percent fewer home runs in 2021. The Atlantic broke the story, which stems from a memo sent Friday to the 30 MLB sovereign city-states:

"As you are aware, M.L.B. has engaged a committee of scientific experts over the last several years to study the construction and performance of the baseball. One of the recommendations of that committee has been to narrow the manufacturing specifications of the baseball in order to improve the consistency of the baseball’s performance.”


Empirical observations:  

a) I wasn't aware that MLB had hired mad scientists to de-Frankenstein the secrets of The Ball. What other experiments are underway? What could they be doing with, say, the rosin bag? 

b) "... to narrow the manufacturing specifications of the baseball..."  Eeecheeewowa! Am I getting this right: They're basically replacing last year's baseball with a near perfect replica?

c) This is how longstanding single-season records get obliterated. 

This is like those scientists who say humanity can stop global warming my filling the atmosphere with circus balloons. Neat idea, if it works. And if it doesn't... hey, look, everybody... balloons!

But here's the rub: MLB does face an existential crisis: Five of the six most homer-happy seasons in history have come since 2016. As Yank fans know, our lineup has turned into a sad conga line of HR/K/BB outcomes, our pitching staff a vending machine for moon shots. But will this work? Says today's Gray Lady:

M.L.B. told teams that “in an effort to center the ball within the specification range” for bounciness, Rawlings produced balls that “loosened the tension of the first wool winding.” The result was a ball that weighed 2.8 grams less and had a slightly reduced bounciness that was, on average, “more in the middle” of the league’s current range.

In a footnote in its memo, M.L.B. wrote that its independent laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, as well as Rawlings, had estimated that the change in bounciness would reduce the flight by an average of one to two feet on 375-foot fly balls.

Translation: They are deadening the ball. (Also, teams will also be allowed to store balls in humidors, lowering their explosiveness.) In each case, fewer long balls and more "bounciness," whatever that means.  

Empirical thoughts...

1. Luke Voit led MLB in HR last year, with 22. But this shouldn't crush his game. Luke seems in a good place. Unlike all-or-nothing sluggers, Voit hit .277 last year and took balls to right field.  

2. On the other hand, if Gary Sanchez hasn't decided to change his ways by now, there's no hope for him. Here comes the last argument he might ever hear for shortening his swing and putting more balls into play.

3. HRs were the bugaboo of Gerrit Cole last year. He surrendered 14, most on the Yankees. Any reduction would helps him (as it will any ace.) Sinker ball pitchers - such as Zack Britton - might conceivably be hurt (though Britton, the old pro, should figure it out.)

4. Can we have takebacks on J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka? Both were victimized by HRs throughout 2020 - nine from Tanaka, eight from Happ. Both are gone. Did  this news come too late for the Yankees to make a wise decision? 

Listen: This is the first glimpse of an iceberg that will dominate baseball all year. Every ball that dies on the warning track will conjure a "what if...?" The YES team might curb its voices, looking to lessen the fury, but Al Gore's Information Superhighway will constantly explode with questions. 

They are tinkering with the DNA of the game. Wow. Didn't see that coming... 


JM said...

It's hard to believe MLB has any balls whatsoever, most days.

Anonymous said...

A few things...

a) "estimated that the change in bounciness would reduce the flight by an average of one to two feet on 375-foot fly balls."

So... Not at all? I'm no rocket scientist but unless the ball was previously hit 377 in a stadium that had a fence at 376 wherein it will now rest safely in the outfielders mitt this means nothing. A 450 foot HR now goes what? 446?

b) What I wrote above aside, it would be great if the perception of a deadder ball brings back the value of not always swinging for the fences. Moving guys up. Stealing. You know... baseball.

c) Tanaka and Happ. - See A. The only thing that would help Tanka is a raised stitching so he could get more spin. I love him but he was who he was and at this point he was prone to the meatball in the 4th. Those will still go out. Happ is too mad at the Yankees to be effective for them. He may be wrong. He may be right. But he's just not the lunatic we're looking for.

Doug K.

HoraceClarke66 said...

And once again the people who run the sports with the longest and most valued traditions in this country...decide to further trash those traditions by making statistics over time more meaningless than ever. Good job!