There’s no baseball being played at the moment (unless you count the batting cage Joey Gallo installed inside his living room), but that hasn’t stopped the juiced-ball truthers from coming out in full force.
Balls left the park at a record rate last season—2019 saw 6,776 balls make the journey from home plate to Souvenir City. While MLB and ball-manufacturer Rawlings have been suspiciously mum on the subject, many attributed last year’s home-run bonanza to the league’s rumored use of “juiced balls.” Research has all but proven that the 2019 crop of balls was a more home-run-friendly batch than ones we had seen in years past. But that doesn’t explain the mysterious power outage that prevailed throughout last year’s postseason as the regular-season’s unprecedented home-run swell gave way to an inexplicable fall famine.
Pitching has always reigned supreme in October, but the steep home-run drop-off, which came on the heels of a meteoric regular-season power surge, demands an explanation. And thanks to the investigative work spearheaded by sports data scientist and astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills, we now have one.
After a thorough vetting of balls used during last year’s playoffs, Wills suspects the league quickly pivoted to “de-juiced” balls, a breed characterized by a whiter color and thicker, more prominent laces. Wills’ research was detailed in a New York Daily News report filed by columnist Bradford William Davis.
While Rawlings has followed the MLB company line in denying any difference in composition between regular and postseason balls, one anonymous pitcher noticed a distinct change. “They were incredibly white and incredibly slippery to me,” the pitcher commented, noting the postseason ball was “very difficult” to hold. “After I came out of the game, I saved the ball that was in the game because it was so noticeably white that it stood out, took it in and showed one of our clubhouse guys and said 'There's no way that's one of our baseballs.’”
MLB and Rawlings’ frustrating lack of transparency on the subject continued with remarks made by Rawlings Chief Marketing Officer Mike Thompson addressing Wills’ recent findings. While Thompson’s response didn’t amount to a complete denial, the Rawlings exec disputed Wills’ research, questioning the authenticity of the balls she studied.
“If they were game-used balls, then they would have had to come from that 2019 production cycle,” said Thompson, continuing to show skepticism. “[If] she's getting balls from other sources, other than the clubhouse, meaning a concessionaire or a retailer or whatnot, there could definitely be a difference.” When asked for a theory on what led to declining long-ball totals during the postseason, Thompson only offered, “Obviously, the pitching is much, much better. That’s got to be a big part of it.”
Juiced or not, when it comes to the baseballs MLB is using, all that’s clear is that nothing is clear.