(NEW YORK) — There may be no crying in baseball, but some major leaguers are crying foul over the official baseballs used during this year’s play.
Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist and a lifelong baseball fan, said things are “very different” this season.
“Players, when they hit the ball, they’ll talk about it feeling like mush coming off the bat,” Wills told ABC News’ “Start Here.” “We’re seeing that pitchers really don’t like to hold the ball or throw the ball. They call it spongy. They’ll actually say that it’s squishy.”
Over the past few years, a complaint among some baseball fans was that it was easier to hit home runs. According to data analyzed by FiveThirtyEight, last season averaged nearly 1.22 home runs again; this season only .97 are averaged so far. Average home runs per game hit their peak in 2019 with 1.39 a game.
A league official told ABC News that several factors are contributing to the drop in home runs in the beginning of the 2022 season relative to prior seasons and not any one cause is to blame. The official pointed to factors that include conditions, pitchers on the roster, weather and the ball.
Also, a labor stoppage at the beginning of the 2022 season resulted in a protracted spring training and less practice for hitters heading into regular season games.
Some scientists like Wills pointed to the ball and said that depending on climate, the ball will become harder and easier to launch.
“[The yarn] dries out. It will shrink down. It’s like your hair frizzing in humidity,” said Wills.
To address this problem, the league began using humidors, according to Wills, which was also told to ABC News by a league official.
A league official told ABC news that the humidors being used in all 30 ballparks are consistent with the public recommendations made by experts to make the ball perform more consistently in various atmospheric conditions.
The 2022 baseball season began on April 7 and some pitchers have already expressed anger because they say they can’t control the new ball.
At the end of April, New York Mets starting pitcher Chris Bassitt expressed frustration toward the league for the lack of consistency in baseballs, saying that the “bad” baseballs are “all different,” following an April 26 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets won 3-0, but three Mets players and two Cardinals players were hit by pitches.
Bassitt said that the inconsistency among the baseballs is being exacerbated by the different climates, despite the use of humidors.
“The problem is that it’s sitting on a flat shelf for two weeks. Balls are getting flat spots,” said Wills, who added that fans may start to recognize that more pitchers are discarding or throwing away balls before pitching.
An MLB official provided ABC News with league-wide data through May 15 of the current season. The data suggests that there is no evidence yet that pitchers are struggling to control the ball, saying that the league has seen the lowest walk rate since 2019, the lowest hit by pitch rate since 2019 and the lowest rate of wild pitches per game since 2012.
Also, due to the pandemic wreaking havoc on game schedules, Wills said that there are batches of balls from multiple years being used.
The MLB released a statement in November 2021 confirming that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply-chain issues, the league and sports equipment company Rawlings “incorporated excess inventory” into “a full complement of baseballs” for the 2021 season.
“Every baseball used in a 2021 MLB game, without exception, met existing specifications and performed as expected,” said the statement. “MLB’s independent panel of experts and the Players Association were informed of this decision. The baseballs were fully within the specification range both before and after the production change.”
The statement also added that the excess inventory has been “exhausted,” and the 2022 season will be played “with only balls manufactured after the production change.”
In May 2022, an MLB official told ABC News that in response to player feedback following last season, the league has taken steps to make the ball more consistent than ever, including mud applied on game days, providing each team with rosin bags and umpires manually checking baseballs to ensure a level playing field is maintained.
Wills said she is not convinced. She said that the change in production has created a whole new host of problems for the league.
“If you want to break something,” she said. “Try to fix something that’s not broken, that’s pretty much the surest way to do it.”
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