MLB

Did MLB Change Baseballs for the 2019 Season?

Christian Yelich

There has been speculation in the last couple years that Major League Baseball is using different baseballs. People say the balls are juiced to help batters hit more home runs to get more excitement going for MLB.

There hasn’t been definitive proof of the MLB baseball changes, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently acknowledged different MLB baseballs being used in games. Although he points only to slight changes in the way the balls are manufactured.

Different centering equals less drag

When talking about ballmaker Rawlings, Manfred said that “they haven’t changed their process in any meaningful way. They haven’t changed their materials.” They have, however, started doing a better job of centering the pill. Manfred explains that “the centering of the pill in the baseball [is] something that could be a drag issue. To the extent that the pill is not perfectly centered, the ball wobbles when it’s hit, creates more drag.”

More drag means that the ball doesn’t travel as far. Now, according to Manfred, one of the things that may be happening is “they’re getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag.” That helps the ball travel farther to create more opportunities for home runs.

Historic homer pace … again

In 2017, MLB batters hit 6,105 home runs, which set a new all-time record for a single season. After a drop to 5,585 homers last season, the MLB is on pace to set a new record this season. Through June 29, there have been 3,390 home runs hit. This puts the league on pace to beat the 2017 record by about 600 dingers, which would equate to roughly a 10% increase over the current high-water mark.

The record pace started early this season. In April, there was a home run hit in every 25.6 at-bats. That represented the second-highest rate for any full month of games in MLB history. The only month with a higher rate was June 2017, when hitters swatted a homer every 25.4 at-bats. But it’s not just the baseballs that are different.

Reds manager David Bell has noticed that players are taking different swings than they used to as they aim for the fence more than they did in the past. Bell says, “there’s just no question that swings are geared for more home runs. The swings are different than they used to be. It’s pretty obvious when you pull up a video of 20 years ago, 30 years ago.” Mets manager Mickey Callaway has also noticed that “the ball’s been flying here more than I’ve ever seen.”

The biggest home run hitters of 2019

The list of the top home run hitters in baseball so far this season (through June 29) is full of names that you would expect to see on the list, joined by a couple of surprising additions. Christian Yelich tops the list with 29 home runs, followed closely by rookie phenom Pete Alonso

Alonso has already set the Mets’ franchise record for homers by a rookie with 28. Cody Bellinger is third on the list with 27, followed by a trio of players tied with 24, Padres teammates Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes — probably the most surprising players on the leaderboard — along with Edwin Encarnacion, who is the American League leader in homers.

Mike Moustakas and Gary Sanchez are next up with 23 apiece, and four players round out the top 10, tied with 22 home runs each. That list of four includes Josh Bell, who is one of the hardest hitters in the game, Freddie Freeman, Alex Bregman, and perennial American League MVP candidate Mike Trout. In total there are 23 players in the majors with at least 20 home runs through June 29.

Are the different balls good for the game?

The different balls coupled with the different swings have led to the dramatic increase in home runs. Some fans enjoy the new style of play, home runs are arguably the most exciting part of baseball. However, baseball purists argue that the new style takes away most of the intricate tactics of baseball.

It will be interesting to see whether the rate of home runs levels out over the coming years.