Dead Balls Are Hurting Major League Baseball And Manfred’s Reputation
As if commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t have a bad reputation already, he’s done something for the 2022 season that may be irreversible. It’s the balls themselves.
In an era of the game where three true outcomes are prevalent, and general managers/analytics are hyper fixated on launch angle, the current crop of baseball stands right in the way of how it used to be, as of even a couple of years ago.
During the latter half of the 2010s, home run rates skyrocketed to new heights with these analytics to blame. It reached a pinnacle in 2019 with the highest rate in MLB history at 3.72% or 1.39 a game. Two teams engaged in a Sosa-McGwire type chase for the single-season team home run record.
Initially set by the Mariners in 1997 with 264, the 2019 Minnesota Twins demolished the record with 307 home runs hit. A combined eight players hit 20 or more home runs and five hit 30 or more. The Yankees finished with one home run behind them.
Then the news broke that Manfred had juiced the balls after the conclusion of 2019. This already further tainted his already unpopular reputation. He admitted to experimenting with two different types of baseballs with the juiced balls coming into play. Broken records resulted in him making the change.
Obviously, the pandemic slowed the production of deadened balls, but they came into the picture during the 2021 season. Average home runs per game decreased to a seemingly manageable number at 1.22. This seemed to be the end of it as the league ERA was down to 4.22 – a decrease from 4.44.
This brings us to the present day. The numbers are already astounding. The juiced baseballs seem to be completely absent. Through nearly a month of games played, there’s an average of .91 home runs per game. This is the lowest since 2014, but there’s a scarier fact, and it’s batting average.
So far, 2022 is the year of the lowest batting average in Major League history at .232. This is absolutely mind-boggling. It’s lower than the year of the pitcher in 1968 when Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 and Denny McClain won 30 games. The hypocrisy amongst Manfred and company is real.
Rob Manfred is attempting to speed up games in order to enhance viewership. What he doesn’t realize though is that the younger generation wants to see home runs. When baseball almost died for good after the 1994 season, steroids saved the day with historic home run rates during that time.
I even recall during the 2017 World Series, friends of mine who didn’t even care for baseball were astounded by what excitement the home run ball and offense, in general, was presented. It was fun.
Manfred during the 2021 season also had the sticky stuff situation. During this year the offense started very grimly. With offense needing an uptick, he cracked down on pitchers with enhanced spin rates on their pitches. They would use substances not banned by baseball (yet) like spider tack.
He handled it horribly during the month of June, with some pitchers like Rays starter Tyler Glasnow hurting their arms and being out for the rest of the year. The offense rose up to the numbers presented above.
But now with no sticky stuff and just deadened balls, there’s a lack of excitement. It feels as though the occasional occurrence of a slugfest is gone. A 400-foot home run in 2019 is a long flyout.
Players are also expressing frustration. Gavin Lux hit a ball in the 2019 postseason that was 106 mph off the bat. The launch angle was 22 degrees. It resulted in a flyout to end Game 3 of the NLDS. In 2021, batters hit .887 with 38 home runs under these conditions.
Every day it seems a player misses out on hitting a long home run. And it’s all due to the annoying deadened ball. This needs to change however the real change is for Manfred to go away.
As a baseball fan, I’m sick of his in-season experimentations on the game. Simply put, he needs to listen to the fans in order to improve the game for the better.