For Baseball Fans, The Juiced Ball Is A Home Run

Evan Woo ‘22

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A couple of weeks ago, during the final weekend of the MLB season, rookie Pete Alonso of the Mets hit his 53rd home run, eclipsing the rookie home run record set by Aaron Judge in 2017.  However, like every home run record set in a season where home run records seem to fall by the dozens, this record could one day stand with an asterisk, as does Barry Bonds’ single season home run record. (Bonds had used steroids).  The reason is an increasingly accepted theory over the last few years: the baseball used by the Major Leagues has been altered, turning hits that used to be fly ball outs or wall scrapers into home runs. This has come to be known as “The Juiced Ball Theory,” and has lead to an explosion in the number of home runs hit by Major League players.

 

During the recently concluded 2019 MLB season, players hit 6,776 home runs, setting a new MLB record and demolishing the previous record.  While that fact in and of itself is not nearly enough to declare that the baseball has changed, consider that this previous record was set only 2 years ago, in 2017, when players hit 6,105 home runs.  Prior to 2017, the single season total home run record was “just” 5,693 – set in 2000 (smack in the middle of the steroid era).

 

Not only does this home run revolution give hitters a boost over their historical counterparts, they hurt pitchers significantly, some more than others.  When asked about the Juiced Ball earlier this year by The Washington Post, Orioles pitcher Alex Cobb responded, “I’m amazed the question is even being asked. The ball is juiced. We’re in the entertainment industry, and if fans really do enjoy watching [home runs], then that’s what’s going to be done. And that’s fine. It’s just frustrating to have to answer the questions, as if it’s performance-based, when I’ve been working on my craft with a certain type of ball my entire big league career, and then all of a sudden it’s changed. It’s hard to talk about it because as pitchers, it just sounds like sour grapes.”  Pitching stats support the juiced ball too.  The average ERA (a stat that measures the average number of earned runs a pitcher allows over nine innings) in the MLB this season was the highest its been in 13 years.  So have pitchers gotten collectively worse, and hitters collectively more powerful, in a span of just a couple years? Highly unlikely, and if you’re still not convinced, look no further than Triple-A, the highest level of minor league baseball.  At the beginning of this season, Triple-A leagues switched from their baseball to the official Major League baseball. To no one’s surprise, Triple-A hitters hit nearly 60% more home runs in 2019 compared to 2018.

 

So if the ball is juiced to produce more home runs, what does that mean for the MLB, and is it even a problem?  After all, the casual fan doesn’t want to see a low scoring pitching duel. They want to see exciting hitters and long home runs (why else would the Home Run Derby be so immensely popular?), and the easiest way to do that is to make home runs easier to hit.  Says Chris Dong ‘22, “I think more home runs make games more exciting. It’s like football. People don’t want to see low scoring games, they want to see shootouts. People enjoyed the high scoring Chiefs-Rams game last year but nobody liked the Super Bowl because it was so low scoring.  I think this transfers over to baseball, offense driven games are just more exciting.” So while most fans enjoy lots of offense, there’s a hidden downside to that. There exists a strong correlation between the average number of runs scored in a game and the average length of a game, and the MLB has acknowledged they have a problem with how long games take to play.  This year, the average MLB game took 3 hours and 10 minutes, longer than any other year. However, the year with the second longest average game was only two years ago, in 2017, when the average game length of 3 minutes 8 seconds. Even more interestingly, until the year 2011, only one year even had an average game length over 3 hours, which was the year 2000. If these years sound familiar, it’s because I mentioned them earlier in the article as the three seasons where the most home runs were hit.  However, as big of a problem as pace of play and game length may be for baseball, the solution is not to reduce offense in order to shorten games. The Juiced Baseball makes baseball more interesting and exciting to watch, and that should take precedence over making sure the games don’t take too long, because no one wants to watch boring games anyway. As with any change, baseball’s purists will shake their collective heads and ask what has happened to the game. However, baseball needs to be allowed to evolve.  Pitcher’s duels are long, arduous ordeals that only the most hardcore baseball fans appreciate, while most fans declare them to be boring games. Home runs on the other hand, can be enjoyed by the casual and the diehard alike, and the more home runs the merrier.

 

In America, no sport is packed with more tradition and history than baseball.  However, in today’s fast paced world, it sometimes feels like baseball can no longer keep up.  In recent years, the MLB has had an offensive explosion, with hitters young and old setting career bests and combining to hit the most home runs in a season in MLB history.  All signs point to this being due to a change in the baseball the league uses, but what’s also becoming more and more clear is that this is exactly what baseball needs.

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