MLB players and fans spent the previous five or so years complaining about the juiced ball and how it had fundamentally changed hitters approaches at the plate. The league’s response was to introduce humidors to all 30 parks, when only 10 of the stadiums had used them in the past, for the 2022 season to decrease the number of dingers.
A month into the season, and we very well could be headed for a new dead ball era. Over nearly 35,000 plate appearances, MLB hitters are hitting .234/.307/.373 despite the fact that the walk rate (8.7%) and strike out rate (22.7%) are in line with where they were during the peak juiced ball year of 2019 — there has been a corresponding increase in pitching performance across the league as well.
The decline in batting average and slugging is happening at the same time the hard hit rate has dropped to 29.6% — the lowest it’s been since 2012 — and there being a surge in medium contact (the highest it’s been since 2014). What that’s lead to is a dramatic drop in the percentage of fly balls that turn into dingers — from 13.6% in 2021 to 10.2% in the first month of 2022.
These offensive numbers are worse than they were in during the stretch from 2011 – 2014 when everyone was worried the lack of offensive production would kill the game — I wrote about that era back in 2014. Baseball’s response to that offensive downturn in 2014 was the juiced ball, which you can read more about here; but once it got out of control the league came up with a drastic solution and now offensive production has completely cratered.
So that bags the question, what the hell has happened to offensive production across Major League Baseball? Why has it dropped so dramatically for the first four weeks of the season?
Dr. Meredith Wills has this impressive thread on Twitter (which you should absolutely read) about the balls and what she’s experienced. But one of her comments about the baseball in the middle of the thread caught my attention.
These inconsistencies in the balls from inning-to-inning, game-to-game has caused all sorts of havoc with pitching this season. And there have been multiple pitchers who have complained about their inability to get a good grip on the ball.
Toronto Blue Jay’s reliever Yimi García had this to say about the ball after his appearance on Tuesday, May 10th.
“Last night was some of the worst nights of my playing career regarding the baseballs,” García said through an interpreter before Wednesday’s game. “It was embarrassing. The balls that we’re using right now, for me, it’s bad. The balls are really bad, very slippery, and I can’t believe it.”
García faulted the seams on the balls.
“They’re very low,” he said, saying the lack of height caused the slipperiness.AP report via the Washington Post
His comments came less than a week after Mets’ starter Chris Bassitt’s interview that Dr. Wills shared in her tweets referenced above.
Baseball argues that the declines in walks and home runs indicate the ball isn’t harder to control. But I honestly think that’s straight up bullshit. Just because walks are down doesn’t mean that the ball is easier to control, especially with how horrifically bad umpires have been at calling balls and strikes this season. When you combine the wider strike zone we’ve been seeing, plus the dramatic drop in hard hit rate, it’s hard for me to buy the league’s belief that the ball has not been harder to control when pitchers are consistently saying it is.
I’m starting to think that the league’s decision to install humidors in the 20 parks that didn’t use them prior to this season has had an unintended consequences. It’s produced different effects on the balls depending where they are that’s made them extremely inconsistent and hard to pitch or hit with any authority. As a result, the players are pissed and the fans are disgruntled…which is not a recipe for success.
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