(Photo Credit: MLB.com)
By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
It’s impossible to truly say if the Boston Red Sox would have beaten the Houston Astros in last October’s ALDS. Houston had a bonafide power house of an offense with the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve, who was about to be named the 2017 AL MVP. Boston entered the series having won the AL East for the second year in a row, but unlike their opponents, were the lowest ranking team in home runs, and won most of their 93 games playing aggressive small ball. So did the Astros have an unfair advantage based on juiced baseballs?
What is a juiced baseball?
In a nutshell, baseballs used in 2017 have a thinner inner core. They also contain 10% less silicone, and lower/tighter seams to make the ball more resistant to drag. All combined, add an extra travel distance of 8.6 feet for a ball in flight. This data is a result of joint investigations by researchers and doctors from the Keck School of Medicine, and Kent State University.
When did the changes occur?
In 2014 there were 4,186 home runs hit all across major league baseball. In 2017, that number spiked to a staggering 6,105 home runs. Which happens to be a 46% increase. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has largely declined to comment on the matter, other than to say that all of the baseballs they use during competition, made by Rawlings, fall within the appropriate range of specifications of which they are required to meet. However, when asked specifically if the balls are “juiced,” Manfred steadfastly denies this to be the case, despite the glaring uptick in home runs.
The 2014 World Series was played between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals. Both teams were wild card teams coming into the playoffs, and blazed their respective paths mostly on pitching and defense.
In 2017, the Astros, Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers were the final four teams remaining in the MLB playoffs. All four of them were loaded with free swinging sluggers. New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles happen make up the three biggest markets in the sport. If this was the original goal in order to boost ratings, Commissioner Manfred must have been pretty pleased.
Growing distrust and possible future conspiracy theories
Ever since Bud Selig retired as MLB Commissioner, and Manfred succeeded him, the latter has had a hard on for radically overhauling the game. From a pitch clock, to runners on base in extra innings, limiting teams to one reliever per inning, and raising the strike zone, many fans are not ready or accepting of these ideas.
By covertly altering the the baseballs, MLB officials have somewhat successfully circumvented their way around the players, MLB player’s union, and existing rules to achieve the offensive outputs they has been seeking. Albeit artificial ones.
Furthermore, if Manfred is unwilling to be truthful about juiced baseballs, who is to say those big market teams such as the Yankees aren’t receiving balls which are more juiced than the Twins, Royals, Diamondbacks, and other smaller market teams in order to get them further into playoffs? Is this really that farfetched given the fact they are already willing to lie?
We live in a paranoid world. You have to figure fans those smaller market “moneyball” type teams, many of whom might be built around “pitching and defense,” will eventually feel like the system is screwing them. It could further lead them and their respective team’s player and coaching personnel to cry foul.
MLB could very well be heading in the direction of a very slippery slope.
So did the Red Sox get screwed?
I disagree with Justin Verlander. In my opinion they were not competing with the Astros on a level playing field. Pitching is an art, and the league seems perfectly content to desecrate it with artificial offense. Especially for “flyball pitchers” who typically rely on their teammate’s defense to assist with getting batters out.
Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Zach Greinke, Robbie Ray, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, and Chris Sale all struggled mightily at various points during the playoffs. It simply was not a good month for most starting pitchers. Juiced baseballs took the game right out of their hands.
Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel struggled a lot less than many other team’s top starters in the divisional round of the playoffs due to the fact the Red Sox had been a punchless in the power department all year long.
Many objective observers didn’t project the the Red Sox to make it deep into the playoffs. They based those observations simply on the way things were trending. Several months after the fact, we now have cold hard data. The Red Sox had absolutely no chance. The small ball path they took to their division win was never going be successful in the post season.
For a full scientific breakdown of juiced baseballs visit fivethirtyeight.com
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