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MLB players are going to hit over 1,000 more home runs in 2019 than in 2018

And the Cubs (and other teams) are on pace to break their club home-run record. Is this a problem for the sport?

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Kyle Schwarber rounding the bases after a home run, one of 140 the Cubs have hit this year
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Cubs have hit 140 home runs in the 90 games played so far this year.

That’s a pace for 252 home runs this season, which would break the team record of 235, set in 2004.

But they’re not the only ones heading toward a home-run record in 2019, according to this Wall Street Journal article:

The number of home runs being hit this season crosses into the territory of the absurd, with players at the All-Star break on pace to hit more than 6,600, a record. It would be more than 500 homers above the previous mark established in 2017 and nearly 1,000 more than were hit in 2000, the height of the steroid era.

Four teams—the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers—are in line to finish with more than 267 homers, the single-season high the Yankees set last year. By the end of 2019, four of the five seasons with the most home runs ever hit will have come in the past four years.

Not only that, but the Baltimore Orioles are in line to shatter the record for home runs allowed, which is 258, set by the Reds in 2016. The O’s are on pace to allow 309 home runs, and the Mariners, Phillies and Angels are also on pace to serve up more than 258 homers this year. The top four HR-allowed totals in MLB history have all been posted since 2016.

Why is this happening? It appears to be largely because the baseballs are different. BCBer shakeitsugaree went to Washington State University’s Sports Science Lab and wrote this FanPost on what she learned there:

MLB assembled a committee last year to investigate potential differences in balls manufactured in 2014 vs. 2018. Scientists at SSL performed the trials on balls for this study. They have stated that the balls are different: the 2018 balls have reduced drag compared to the 2014 balls.

OK, the balls are different - MLB wants to change the balls so they are more like the 2014 balls - but, what do they change? This has been the issue: the committee couldn’t determine what features of the 2018 balls are responsible for the reduction in drag. This isn’t because it’s an impossible question to answer - it’s because MLB rushed the study. The people at SSL said they need to conduct more trials in order to reduce the noise in the data. MLB wanted an answer before SSL was ready, so the answer they got was ‘inconclusive.’

Many pitchers have said that the seams on the ball are flatter, and that’s the reason for the reduced drag and balls traveling farther. It makes sense. Justin Verlander told ESPN’s Jeff Passan that he thought MLB was doing this on purpose:

Asked if he believed the balls were intentionally juiced by the league, Verlander said: “Yes. 100 percent. They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever. They know how to do it. It’s not coincidence. I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced.”

According to this Jayson Stark article in The Athletic, Verlander was summoned to a meeting with baseball executive Joe Torre (and others) Monday, after which he changed his tune, a little:

Was it true he’d spoken to his friends at Major League Baseball since we’d heard from him last?

“Uh, yes,” he said, succinctly, again choosing his words meticulously.

Could he describe that conversation in any way?

“No. No,” he said. “Don’t need to.”

Nevertheless, he admitted he’d heard Manfred’s public response early in the day. Finally, he was asked where he wants it all to go from here.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Like I said, those decisions are above my head. It’s just one of those things. If they want to reduce the drag on the ball or put it back the way it was, then we can work together, obviously. I’ve got some input. But you know, I’ve thrown a lot of different baseballs in my career. And I actually talked to some guys yesterday … and they said they’d welcome hearing some of my opinions. So I’m all aboard.”

As Stark wrote, Justin Verlander is one of the most respected players in the game, on his way to the Hall of Fame. MLB should listen to him, and others, about the changes in the baseball. There’s no doubt the ball has changed since 2015, when Rob Manfred became commissioner. Whether it was intentional or not, the result has been a tremendous increase in the number of home runs hit. And then we hear Manfred complaining about the “three true outcomes” of modern baseball and wanting to see more balls in play, attempting to tweak rules to facilitate that, when the simplest change would be to start making baseballs the way they were before 2015.

Home runs are fun, no doubt about it. But this is also something to note, from the WSJ article:

“If home runs were the salvation of the game in 1998, they may be the perdition of the game now,” said John Thorn, MLB’s official historian. “It can be argued that a seven-course meal of all desserts can make you tired.”

Thorn is right. Baseball needs to find a balance of offense again. They can start by fixing the baseballs.