John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The long-awaited scientific findings on the 2019 baseball were released on Wednesday, and the conclusions likely aren't going to satisfy pitchers throughout the majors who were convinced MLB intentionally juiced the ball to fly farther and produce more home runs.
Yet at least there is reason to believe Noah Syndergaard wasn't crazy when he kept complaining that he couldn't throw his slider as effectively in the past -- due to a decrease in the height of the seams on some of the balls that apparently contributed to the record-breaking number of home runs.
And maybe there is now even more reason to believe the Mets should gamble on signing free-agent reliever Blake Treinen, whose fall from dominance with the A's last season was due largely to the ineffectiveness of his sinker -- thought to be at least partly related to lower seams on the ball.
Well, who wasn't by the end of last season after watching what seemed to be too many routine fly balls carry over fences for home runs in every big-league ballpark.
And, unfortunately, the conclusions of the scientific study commissioned by MLB that was released at the Winter Meetings in San Diego don't really do much to clear up all the confusion.
Perhaps most significantly, the study -- conducted by four scientists -- shoots down the conspiracy theories, concluding there was no evidence that anything was done intentionally by either the league or Rawlings (the manufacturer) to juice the baseball.
And in what amounted to an endorsement of that finding, Rawlings CEO Michael Zlaket said this at a press conference on Wednesday:
"We have never been asked to juice or de-juice the baseball."
Yet in explaining the astonishing increase in home runs last season, which resulted in the record-breaking total of 6,776 long balls, the scientists concluded that 60 percent of that increase was the result of less drag on the baseball.
The other 40 percent was the result of "launch conditions," meaning the way hitters are attacking the baseball these days, with a higher launch angle to hit the ball in the air.
Ok, that makes some sense, right?
The problem, however, is in breaking down that 60 percent less drag on the ball, the study could only conclude that 35 percent of it was due to the lowered seam height, while the other 65 percent couldn't be explained with any scientific evidence because it found no meaningful change in any other physical properties of the ball.
Still more confusing, the study tested balls used in the postseason, which didn't seem to fly as far, and concluded that they did exhibit increased drag compared to the regular-season balls -- even though there was no detectable difference in seam height.
And so the committee admitted in its report that it doesn't know why the ball didn't seem to be flying as far in October, and could only conclude it may have been the result of a small sample size.
In short, then, this study will do little to quiet the controversy about the baseball, and probably little to convince those who believe MLB is behind all of this, manipulating the manufacturing of the baseballs to get a desired effect.
Perhaps the 2020 season will provide more evidence one way or another, as commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be in agreement with the outcry among fans and media, as well as pitchers, that the home run totals reached a point of absurdity last season.
For now, however, the scientific study could only offer recommendations in an effort to regulate the drag on the ball next season.
Those recommendations include studying the effects of mud that is rubbed on the ball before games to take away the sheen, installing atmospheric-tracking systems to more easily measure drag, and studying the possibility of using humidors in all major league stadiums to "reduce the variability in storage conditions."
The study is the second that MLB has commissioned over the last two years in search of answers about why the ball is flying farther, and neither has found the types of substantive evidence that would make for an easy fix.
The one significant difference in this study centered around the decrease in seam height. Though the study concluded the difference was very small, and varied from ball to ball, it offered the impression that perhaps it's something MLB can attempt to regulate.
Pitchers would surely be in favor of higher seams, allowing them to create more spin or movement on the ball. Syndergaard, remember, said the ball felt like an ice cube to him at times during the season, as he searched in vain for that 95-mph slider he'd thrown a couple of years earlier that left hitters dumbfounded.
There was some thought the lowered seams may have affected Edwin Diaz as well, especially regarding his slider, which went from being a wipeout pitch for the Mariners in 2018 to all too hittable in his disastrous first season with the Mets.
Likewise, Masahiro Tanaka had trouble getting the usual movement on his signature splitter last season, and indicated that it was because of lowered seams on the ball. He went to the extreme of changing his grip on that pitch late in the season, getting better results.
Finally, Treinen, somewhat like Diaz, went from being unhittable -- pitching to a 0.78 ERA in 2018 -- to being all-too hittable, pitching to a 4.51 ERA and getting non-tendered by the A's recently. Treinen relied on a sinker, not a slider, as his out-pitch, but his ability to create sink also may have been affected by lowered seams.
Yet MLB officials offered no indication at Wednesday's press conference that the seams will be intentionally raised next season, saying the ball will continue to be manufactured as always. All of which means that, whatever you care to believe from the latest study, we'll have to wait until next season to see if the ball flies as far as it did in 2019.