October 29, 2017

Dodgers And Astros Claim A Different Ball Is Being Used In World Series

Pitchers and coaches from both the Dodgers and Astros have told Sports Illustrated that the baseballs being used during the World Series are slicker than the ones used during the regular season

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom:
Why in the world would the baseballs in the World Series be different? ... It's obvious. You can see it and you can feel it. It's not the same. Someone's got to explain to me why.
Tom Verducci, who wrote the SI story, said Strom showed him both a regular season baseball and one from WS Game 4:
The regular season ball had not been prepared for a game with the specialty mud that umpires or their attendants rub into baseballs to reduce the shine and slickness. Even accounting for that difference, the leather grain of the World Series ball looked and felt noticeably different. It was slicker to the touch.
Verducci added that he had been told by members of the Cleveland team during the ALDS that the postseason ball felt different from the regular season ball.
Houston pitcher Charlie Morton:
Lance McCullers took the blindfold test in the bullpen. He could tell which ball was which with his eyes closed. It's that different.
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt:
[G]uys have been talking about the ball. I also know that MLB has been talking for a while about maybe a ball that's more like the ball in Japan, where the leather is tackier so that you can use it right out of the wrapper.
Astros pitcher Justin Verlander:
The World Series ball is slicker. No doubt. I'm telling you, we're in here signing [World Series] balls before the game, and it's hard to get the ink on the ball sometimes. ... That's how slick the leather is. It's different. I noticed it especially throwing a slider. It didn't feel the same. The home run I gave up to [Joc] Pederson was a slider.
Verlander threw 17 sliders in Game 2 and got only one swing and miss.

Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish: "I had trouble with the ball throwing a slider. It was slicker."

Darvish lasted only 1.2 innings in Game 3. His best pitch is his slider, and he got no swings and misses on any of his 14 sliders, something that had not happened in any of his 34 starts this season. Verducci reported that Darvish's slider in Game 3 had an average horizontal break of only 8.42 inches, compared to 9.12 inches during the regular season.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up a home run on a slider to Alex Bregman in the ninth inning of Game 4, the first time all year Jansen had allowed a home run on a slider (96 pitches).

Astros reliever Ken Giles threw his slider 47% of the time during the regular season, but he has had such bad luck with it in the postseason that he threw it only twice (out of eight pitches) in Game 4. Not having to worry about that effective pitch in Giles's arsenal, the Dodgers have capitalized. They began their game-winning, ninth-inning rally with a single, walk, and double against Giles.

Game 4 was a 1-0 pitchers' duel through six innings between Morton and Alex Wood. Verducci notes:
Neither pitcher throws a slider. The seven relievers that followed them combined to throw only 12 sliders – and obtained no swings and misses on those sliders. Though he doesn't throw a slider, Morton said the slicker baseball did influence his pitch selection.
It affects running my two-seamer in to righthanders. When the ball is slick you can't throw in with the same aggressiveness. If you don't have control of the baseball, you might end somebody's career. That's a very bad thought to have in your head. ... [I]t's the World Series. So you do everything you can to block out everything. You've got to focus with every pitch. ... But if that's what you're thinking about it does affect your conviction on certain pitches.
After the Astros and Dodgers combined to hit eight home runs in Game 2, a record for a World Series game, Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said:
Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they're juiced 100%. ... There are really powerful guys in this league and they're going to get theirs. But where you can tell a difference is the mid-range guy who's hitting 20-plus home runs now. That doesn't happen. That's not supposed to happen. ... That's what Major League Baseball wants. They want that exciting two home-run lead, and then they (the Dodgers) come back and hit another home run, and everybody's still watching. That's what they want. That's what they're getting.
A story in The Ringer from June 2017 stated that "new evidence has arisen that seems to [show] that much of the rise in home runs can be explained by the ball":
The testing revealed significant differences in balls used after the 2015 All-Star break in each of the components that could affect the flight of the ball, in the directions we would have expected based on the massive hike in home run rate. While none of these attributes in isolation could explain the increase in home runs that we saw in the summer of 2015, in combination, they can.
A report during the same month by 538 looked at air resistance on fly balls. The report also noted that the baseballs used since the middle of the 2015 season were slightly smaller and the seams are lower.

A record total of home runs - 6,104 - were hit during the 2017 regular season, obliterating the previous high of 5,693, set in 2000.
MLB senior vice president of baseball operations Peter Woodfork said the World Series balls are made from the same materials as the balls used during the regular season: "The only difference is the gold [rather than blue] stamping on the baseballs."

Bill Baer, NBC Sports:
Commissioner Rob Manfred has already gone on record disingenuously trying to blame anything else for the spike in home runs. Major League Baseball released a statement in early July claiming balls remain within established guidelines and that there is no evidence that the ball has been changed "in any way that would lead to a meaningful impact on on-field play." Later in July, he blamed bats. He said, "One thing that we're thinking about is bats. We've kind of taken for granted that bats aren't different. We're starting to look at the issue of bats." ...

On Friday, prior to Game 3 of the World Series, Manfred responded to claims of a juiced ball. Via Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal, Manfred reiterated that game balls have been tested and remain within specifications. Manfred also said that people analyzing a supposedly juiced ball based on one homer-happy game (Game 2) isn't really analysis.

Which, of course, is disingenuous. It's not a one-game sample. We have two and a half regular seasons worth of data, plus two well-performed studies. Keuchel thinks the balls are juiced. So does Justin Verlander. So do David Price, Dan Warthen, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, and Chris Archer. Meanwhile, Manfred has been unable to actually refute any amount of the overwhelming evidence. He has only attempted to deflect.

The game changes every so often. The mound gets lower. Stadiums get smaller. Players get bigger, focus on different mechanics. Rules get added, removed, and amended. Changing the baseball isn't a capital offense. ... Just admit the balls were changed so we have official context for recent statistics. That's all.

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