Are the Balls Juiced?

Andrew Hahn, Writer

As the 2019 MLB season comes to a close, there are many questions left to be answered.  Is Jacob DeGrom going to win back-to-back Cy Young awards? Who is going to win the NL MVP?  Will Justin Verlander beat out his teammate, Gerrit Cole, in the AL Cy Young Race? But perhaps the most interesting question, are the balls juiced? 

The unprecedented number of home runs jacked out of MLB parks throughout this year has players, experts, and casual observers wondering if there’s something different about the ball.  Justin Verlander, David Price, Zack Britton, Sean Doolittle, and Archie Bradley are among the pitchers who have publicly commented on their frustration with the “juiced” ball. In 2018, there were 5,585 home runs hit.  In 2019, there was a record of 6,776 home runs, a whopping 21.3% increase from 2018. It is safe to assume that something is different, but what is it? Almost everything has remained nearly the same since last year. The length of the season, rules, and ballpark dimensions are essentially the same, and most players from 2018 are still in the league.  

A widely spread conspiracy theory is that MLB is intentionally manipulating the baseball to make it travel farther.  This theory is rooted in the fact that baseball has been losing popularity as a spectator sport recently, and many believe it is because baseball lacks the excitement of football and basketball.  One can argue that the most exciting and entertaining part of baseball is the dinger! So it makes sense for the MLB to do anything they can to increase the number of home runs. However, it is hard to believe that MLB will alter the balls without informing the public.  It would seem nearly impossible for them to do it in secret without someone in MLB management or working for the ball manufacturer to leak the information. The inevitable disclosure of the conspiracy would cause a public relations nightmare for MLB.

There are other possible explanations for the ridiculous increase in the number of home runs.  First, the balls may be different, but not necessarily intentionally. Rawlings, the ball manufacturer, could have changed a single process in the construction of the balls to make the product cheaper.  For example, Rawlings could have installed new equipment that stitches the seams slightly tighter or looser than last year. A baseball could undergo a slight change and travel differently.  

Many experts believe that the increase in home runs has nothing to do with the ball, but because the game has changed.  Players are realizing that hitting for average is becoming less valuable, and they will become more famous and rich if they hit more home runs.  This results in players swinging harder and hitting more home runs at the risk of a lower batting average. Sluggers such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado earned gigantic contracts at the beginning of this season.  

The next two theories are a little wild, but fun to think about.  The first is the effect of climate change. Science states that a ball will travel further in warm, dry weather, and the global temperature has been rising over the last year, with record-setting temperatures throughout the world this past summer.  The Mets former triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas was infamous for hitting so many home runs because of the heat. The final theory is that the batters discovered a new performance-enhancing drug that is not tested by the MLB. This conspiracy theory is not based on any evidence (except for more home runs).  But it seems clear that if batters are stronger, there will hit more home runs.