MLB players curious about juiced baseball, but now want closure
What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Josh Peter sat down with Lloyd Smith, who runs the sports science laboratory at Washington State University, to discuss the reason why home runs have been hit at a tremendous pace since 2015.
PHOENIX — They’re fatigued by the subject, having talked about those wild, flying baseballs all season, but finally, they may be getting the answers they seek.
“Yeah, we’re curious,’’ Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said Friday night. “It’s a fundamental change that they’ve made. We really want transparency because it’s something that feels like it’s really changed, and we obviously weren’t consulted on it beforehand.
“They couldn’t really get their messages straight during the All-Star break. It seems that every time they talked about it, they gave a different reason or put a different spin on it. So we’ll be interested in hearing what they say.
“Hopefully, it will provide some clarity and some closure.’’
Certainly, something has dramatically changed this year with three teams on pace to shatter the New York Yankees’ record of 266 homers hit in a season. MLB is on pace for 6,712 homers this year — 1,100 more than a year ago, and 600 than the record 6,105 hit in 2017.
“There’s just so many more homers this year,’’ Nationals starter Patrick Corbin said. “so you know something’s going on. You would just hope they would come out and say what’s really going on, and what we have to deal with. It seems like they’re not coming out with all of that information.
“But really, there’s nothing else we can do.’’
Some players believe it’s silly for the Commissioner’s office to even bother going to such extremes to figure out the home run surge, believing there are too many factors to simply blame the baseball.
“Whatever comes out, who cares what it is,’’ Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said. “The game’s evolved. Everything changed. Everything different. Every stadium is different. The baseball is just one thing.
“Now, they’re telling us they know everything? They have to hire smart people to figure it out. We’re not smart enough? We got to hire more people to get the scientific facts.
“Good for them. Can’t wait until they pick up a bat and tell us how to hit.
“I don’t think there’s any difference in the balls. I think it’s just a conversation piece.’’
Well, something strange is going on this year. Home runs are up by 20% over a year ago. There were 1,057 homers hit in July, shattering the previous record of 961 homers in July, 2004.
There are seven players alone who have 30 or more home runs, and 26 players who have hit 25. In the last 10 years, only three players have ever hit 50 homers.
“Obviously, something is different based on the number of records that have been broken, or are about to be broken,’’ Nationals reliever Hunter Strickland said. “It’s crazy to see. You wonder what’s going on, but the end of the day, it’s doesn’t matter.
“We’re all pitching with the same ball. The other teams are using the same one we are. So we can’t use that as a crux or an excuse.’’
Really, as long as the playing field is level, and no team is gaining an advantage by using different baseballs, everything is cool, Arizona Diamondbacks veteran catcher Alex Avila says.
“Trust me, I get it why people are upset and why there are meetings about it,’’ Avila said, “but as long as we’re not using different baseballs than anyone else, or they’re different every few games, it doesn’t bother me.
“You hear all of this debate about it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a baseball. It’s a ball that’s part of our game. That’s all it is. A baseball.’’
Still, in a sport where its records are so sacred, with the home-run record being perhaps the most revered mark in all of sports, there’s a fear that these amped baseballs could tarnish the record book.
The biggest debate is whether the home-run surge is good or bad for baseball. Surveys show that fans love home runs and strikeouts. Yet, if that’s the case, why is attendance down once again throughout baseball?
“It’s crazy to see what’s happening,’’ Strickland said. “They’re definitely trying to change the game, and good or bad, it’s a personal preference.’’
Hopefully soon, everyone will find out why it’s changed, and when players head to free agency and salary arbitration hearings this winter, they’ll have answers.
“You would think that when MLB owns Rawlings (manufacturer of baseballs), they would know what was going on,’’ Doolittle said. “They would know what’s making them different. It feels like it should be one of those variables that should be constant. It has been pretty much the same for a really long time.
“So, it if is different, and they can explain why it’s different, when guys go to free agency and arbitration, it’ll put their numbers in better context. Pitchers will still be punished for giving up home runs. Hitters are still being rewarded for hitting home runs. Does it cheapen the home run? If a guy hits 30, is it even a thing anymore?
“It fundamentally changes the offensive approach to the game, so if that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be.