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One of the most fascinating subplots in the 2022 MLB season were the apparent changes to the baseball itself.
For the most part, the consensus was that the league had “deadened” the baseball to suppress distances.
In previous years, home runs skyrocketed to absurd levels.
For example, in 2019, Eugenio Suarez hit 49 home runs. 10 players hit 41 or more homers.
But in 2022, just two players surpassed 41 homers.
MLB claimed that new manufacturing processes meant they would have more consistency, with only one ball in use.
Some researchers wanted to apply some science to what seemed to be playing out on the field, and their results were surprising.
According to the report from Insider, MLB used not one standardized baseball last year, but three separate ones.
Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist, examined 200 baseballs last year and found that some of the older, “juiced” style balls were still in use.
The vast majority were deader baseballs, but they also used what’s described as “goldilocks” balls that were in the middle. These balls flew further than the deader ones that were more frequently used.
But what’s most fascinating about these “goldilocks” balls is where they were found.
Generally, according to the article, they were put in use during the postseason and World Series, or other major events. The All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, for example.
And one other notable series of games.
“The only Goldilocks balls we obtained from the regular season that did not have commemorative stamps were from Yankees games.”
Yankees games, eh?
Why would there be different balls in play specifically for Yankees games?
Baseball Manipulation to Benefit Judge?
Ah yes. That might have had something to do with it.
MLB, of course, denied it entirely. Insider reported that they said “the conclusions of this research are wholly inaccurate and just plain wrong.”
But Insider also found that the league specifically threatened to punish anyone who helped Willis with her research.
“One player told Insider that one of Manfred’s top lieutenants warned a players’ union official not to let players send any balls to Wills for “third-party testing” and warned that the league could fire any non-union team employees who helped her research.”
So their trustworthiness is up for some debate.
Wills’ sample showed that Yankees games were virtually the only regular season exception to the deader ball.
“In the sample we accumulated, nearly all of our specialty-marked balls were Goldilocks, while the standard, MLB-stamped balls were almost always the dead ball.
There were, however, 20 exceptions — Goldilocks balls that bore no specialty markings on their covers. We found:
- Nine in the postseason across four playoff rounds;
- 11 obtained from Yankees games.”
That, of course, contradicts MLB’s assertions.
Aaron Judge, meanwhile, cashed in on his record season with a massive new contract from the Yankees.
MLB will obviously never admit if they tried to aid Judge’s quest for 62 with livelier baseballs.
But this research certainly raises some substantial questions about the league’s ability to influence outcomes with the ball in play.
The 2023 season is already just a few months away, so in short order, we’ll be able to see if the league’s changed the ball even more.