What is going on? Everybody hates MLB’s baseballs – for different reasons.


There’s only one thing certain about the baseballs trotted out through nearly one month of Major League Baseball games this season.

Everyone hates them.

Hitters hate them: With offense once again reaching historic lows, the cold-weather, small-sample April struggles have sluggers enraged, insisting that MLB is still using two balls and overcorrecting for the juiced-ball season of 2019.

Pitchers hate them: With “sticky substances” banned and frigid weather from coast to coast, gripping the newer, slicker ball has proven challenging and at dangerous times. Just ask the New York Mets: All-Stars Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso were struck in the face by pitches two games into the season (their protective flaps preventing serious injury) and Alonso was hit again, up and in, on Tuesday night, leading pitcher Chris Bassitt to rail against the inconsistencies and unreliabilities of MLB’s most essential product.

What to make of it all?

A guide to what we’re seeing, why we’re seeing it and what may happen next:

Dangerous curves?

Bassitt’s anger was well-founded: The Mets have been hit by pitches 18 times, seven more than any other club, and the beanings of Alonso (twice) and Lindor drove them from the game and raised a significant concern.

Yet the Mets are certainly outliers in this department.

Batters have been hit by pitches 0.42 time per team game this season, keeping in line with recent trends. The hit-by-pitch rate peaked at 0.46 in the shortened 2020 season, but perhaps the most meaningful leap came in 2018, when it leapt from 0.36 to 0.40, capping a 29% jump since the 2012 season.

Pete Alonso was hit in the head by a pitch from Cardinals reliever Kody Whitley on Tuesday.

That also dovetails with a huge leap in the reliance on relievers and extremely hard throwers. Inexperienced pitchers throwing harder than ever certainly creates the potential for dangerous situations, as the Mets themselves witness last year with the horrific beaning of Kevin Pillar by then-Braves reliever Jacob Webb. Cardinals right-hander Kodi Whitley was making his 35th career appearance Tuesday when he hit Alonso at the helmet, causing a round of chirping from both dugouts and Mets manager Buck Showalter to emerge from the dugout.

The HBP rate has settled in between 0.40 and 0.46 since 2018. While Bassitt’s ball complaints may have merit, early statistics indicate this season is in line with past years, and numerous factors – a bitterly cold April, a shortened spring training after a 99- day lockout, expanded pitching staffs placing unqualified pitchers in the majors – are also worth considering.

And consider this, from Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas.

“It’s not the ball’s fault,” he said Wednesday morning, per the Belleville News-Democrat. “Take some responsibility for your actions.”

Dead ball era?

Tattoo this to your forehead – not permanently, please – before taking in the next few sentences: It’s only April.

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That said, offensive numbers two weeks into the season are so emaciated as to be laughable. The league-wide slugging percentage is .368, down 11% from last season. Runs per game are at 4.06, also down 11%. And your calculator may break when comparing slugging (down 15%), runs (-16%) and home runs (-35%) from the record-smashing 2019 season.

It’s enough to get a player’s mind wandering.

“Everybody’s talking about it,” Mets second baseman Robinson Cano told USA TODAY Sports in a rancorous piece on ball inconsistency. “Something’s going on.”

He’s not wrong – but what may be going on might merely be the new normal.

A basket of baseballs during spring training.

A basket of baseballs during spring training.

While pitchers and hitters alike remain adamant that two types of balls are in play, MLB said in a preseason memo to teams, per The Athletic, that just one type of baseball will be used in 2022. The league cited production issues (the balls are Produced at a Rawlings plant – owned by MLB – in Costa Rica) as the reason two types of balls were used in 2021 after research by Business Insider revealed different lots of balls were in play.

Additionally, all 30 clubs are utilizing humidors to store balls this season, a practice previously limited to thin-air hitting environments in Denver and Phoenix.

Either way, according to ball flight expert Rob Arthur, drag on the ball remains elevated, and the seeming preponderance of warning-track flyballs is no accident.

Only a full season – and a few more after that – will determine if the ball is consistent and a significant drop in power is permanent.

Stakes are high

We’re tempted to say this shouldn’t be so difficult, and that other sports aren’t afflicted by the most basic equipment malfunctions and inconsistencies.

(And then we remember Deflategate).

That said, a postseason basketball is never roiled by conspiracies of smaller balls or rims that soar above or fall short of 10 feet. Hockey pucks are frozen, tossed into play and rarely discussed during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Baseball’s problem with, well, baseballs has an obvious and immediate impact on competition in what’s now a nearly $11 billion industry. The introduction of gambling – and the league’s promotion of it in stadiums and on its network – only heightens the stakes. A preponderance of games in which the run total landed on “under” in April only underscored this concept.

Consistency and transparency will be crucial going forward. For now, a small sample was enough to get a smattering of players up in arms.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB using different balls? Juiced balls? Here’s why everybody is mad



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