MLB is blaming pitcher subterfuge for its soaring strikeout rates and depressed offense. But Will Middlebrooks says that’s just a deflection.
The former Red Sox third baseman called out MLB for its upcoming crackdown on foreign substances. Though the league sent a memo to teams in March alerting them to increased monitoring of baseballs, they’re now going to start focusing on enforcement, according to multiple reports.
“Love that MLB is now ‘investigating’ the very baseballs that they choose to change every year,” Middlebrooks tweeted Wednesday night. “What other sport does that? Makes you think… Let’s not forget the fact that MLB bought Rawlings in 2018.”
It is true: The baseball changes year to year, which is insane when you think about it. As CBS Sports points out, the ball designed changed from 2014-19, resulting in a staggering 58-point increase in the league-average OPS.
An MLB-commissioned study found differences in the seams led to the 2019 offensive spike. In other words, the ball was “juiced.”
As Middlebrooks mentions, MLB purchased Rawlings in 2018 to gain greater control over the balls.
Prior to this season, MLB made minor alterations to the baseball in an attempt to deaden it. The changes were intended to make the ball “less bouncy,” The Athletic reports (yes, that is a technical term).
It’s fair to say MLB’s efforts have been successful. In 2011, the majors’ batting average was .255. Through Wednesday, it’s .237.
There are several other factors, too. Pitcher velocity is up, hitters are focused on launch angle, and yes, hurlers are covering the balls in sticky stuff. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s and Trevor Bauer’s spin rates dropped dramatically in recent days.
But solely placing the blame on player behavior is scapegoating. If Rob Manfred wants to genuinely address the league’s offensive crisis, he should look at his balls.