MLB secretly used 2 different types of baseballs last season

soxhop411

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Sean Doolittle has pitched across 10 seasons in Major League Baseball with four teams. He's made two All-Star teams and gunned down the best lineups on the sport's biggest stage on the way to a world championship. He's also been the losing pitcher in an elimination game and been kicked off the roster during a prolonged slump. In other words, he's come about as close as one can to seeing all American baseball has to offer.

But as accustomed as Doolittle is to baseball's ups and downs, there is one part of the sport that he says becomes less familiar every season: the baseball itself. The namesake and fundamental implement of his sport — a tool he has gripped and thrown more than 7,000 times — has in recent years begun to behave in ways that defy his finely honed sense of its character.

"I feel like I normally have a pretty good handle on being able to judge a fly ball or a line drive, like a ball in the air to the outfield," Doolittle, now a free agent hoping to bounce back after an up-and-down stint between the Cincinnati Reds and the Seattle Mariners, told Insider. "There were a few instances over the course of the [2021] season where, you know, we're sitting in the bullpen watching the game or whatever. And like a home run gets hit and you're kind of like, surprised that it got out. And so, like you're looking at it and you're like, 'That's kind of weird.' ... it can only happen so many times before you start, like, questioning things."

It isn't just the odd home run that gives Doolittle reason to question the baseball. League balls are made by hand in a Rawlings factory in Costa Rica; each one exhibits minor variations from the next, and manufacturing protocols have changed over the decades. In February, the league revealed that, on the advice of its cadre of scientific experts, it had secretly begun making the ball's center — the layered complex of yarn wound around a cork and rubber core that you find beneath the leather exterior — slightly lighter and less dense "in order to improve the consistency of the baseball's performance."

Specifically, the league said, Rawlings didn't wind the yarn as tight as before. The new, looser balls came off the bat softer, the league said, ultimately traveling shorter distances — welcome news for pitchers dealing with the ramifications of the most homer-happy era in the sport's history. These new and improved balls, the league said in an internal memo explaining the move, would be introduced in the 2021 season.
According to a new study by Meredith Wills, a Society for American Baseball Research award-winning astrophysicist, the league used two distinct types of baseballs — one lighter and deader than the other — during the 2021 season. By dissecting and carefully measuring hundreds of balls used in 15 major-league parks, Wills found that the league did indeed introduce a new ball with a lighter center, as it pledged to do in the February memo. But she also found that MLB continued to use the older, heavier-center ball at the same time, apparently without telling fans, clubs, or players.

Wills' findings could have far-reaching implications for the sport, shattering what little trust and goodwill remains between league officials and players, whose fortunes rise or fall on minuscule and obscure details like the weight of a baseball's center. Informed by Insider that the league sent teams two different balls with different performance profiles, players, scouts, and front-office staffers expressed bafflement and frustration. "There's a lot of things that ... the public doesn't really see," said one National League outfielder who asked not to be named. "There's just, like, lack of transparency, with [these] issues. And, you know, I don't know why that is."

Wills, whose work to reverse-engineer the design and manufacture of baseballs has been covered in Sports Illustrated and The Athletic, has been collecting and deconstructing game balls since 2018 to track changes that the league — which purchased Rawlings in 2018 alongside a private-equity firm — makes. When Wills took apart balls used last season and weighed their centers, she found that just under half clustered at about 124 to 125 grams, roughly in line with the league's new process for balls with a lighter center. The other balls, however, had centers clustered at about 127 grams, consistent with all the baseballs she had cut open from the previous 20 seasons.

It's important to note that all of the overall ball weights were within the 5 to 5 1/2 ounces that league rules permit, and that one would expect to see some variation in a handmade product. But the differences Wills found aren't random. Inside the Rawlings balls' leather coverings are batch codes — seven stamped letters that indicate the production week, a receipt that allows an exceptionally curious person to know the date the ball was manufactured.
https://www.businessinsider.com/mlb-used-two-different-balls-in-2021-2021-11

more at the link
 

Marciano490

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Sorry, I couldn’t tell from the thread title - is this Major League Baseball that’s based in North America, or a different league? Please add detail.
 

crow216

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A report criticizing the league right before a MLB lockout? Shocked.

But...this issue is the absolute worst and the lack of transparency is truly what boggles my mind. How can any team predict the performance of a player if they cannot reasonably expect to know how the ball will impact their performance? From 2017 to 2021, this has been a major story and the league has handled this very poorly.
 

DennyDoyle'sBoil

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I'm getting a Hanlon's razor vibe here. Baseball has a lot of issues and so they are easy to criticize right now but this seems like a bunch of horseshit to me.

The implications seems to be that the league was picking and choosing which games and stadiums to send which balls too. No fucking way do I believe that.

In 2019 and 2020 they produced balls that had a slightly different center that knocked off about 1 foot for 375 on fly balls. They sent a memo to all GMs saying they were going to introduce the ball in the 2021 season. At the same time they had presumably a shit ton of boxes of balls that were slightly different that they didn't throw away. That's the problem? Big deal. There's no link to the actual memo only a story about the memo but for all we know the league was transparent about the new balls being gradually introduced.

And then we get a fairly sensational mouthbreathing story that the balls are all fucked up and that the 1 foot in 375 is not true based on Sean Fucking Doolittle seeing weird fly balls? Come on.
 

E5 Yaz

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On the other hand, this explains the Stantonian single
 

DennyDoyle'sBoil

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On the other hand, this explains the Stantonian single
John Sterling's PR Firm released the following statement: "John was led to believe they were playing with the balls that were 1 gram heavier when he made his call."
 

barbed wire Bob

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It's important to note that all of the overall ball weights were within the 5 to 5 1/2 ounces that league rules permit, and that one would expect to see some variation in a handmade product. But the differences Wills found aren't random. Inside the Rawlings balls' leather coverings are batch codes — seven stamped letters that indicate the production week, a receipt that allows an exceptionally curious person to know the date the ball was manufactured.
One ounce is approximately 28 grams so the allowable weight difference is 14 grams. If she is seeing at most a three gram weight difference between the lots, then the lots are pretty uniform and IMO that’s damn good quality control for a factory where the product is being made by hand. I agree, this is a horseshit article attempting to create a tempest in a tea cup.
 

DennyDoyle'sBoil

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One ounce is approximately 28 grams so the allowable weight difference is 14 grams. If she is seeing at most a three gram weight difference between the lots, then the lots are pretty uniform and IMO that’s damn good quality control for a factory where the product is being made by hand. I agree, this is a horseshit article attempting to create a tempest in a tea cup.
Yeah, one would think any player that says he would have done something different if he had known he was pitching with a ball with a 1-3 gram difference (for a ball that weights 141-155 grams) is probably full of shit and looking for an excuse. And even if it's true, the rules already permit for the balls made in the same way in the same lot to have much more variation than that, as you note.
 
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joe dokes

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100 balls doesn't seem like a lot. I think they use 100 in a single game, IIRC.
 

barbed wire Bob

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From SoSH’s own Alan Nathan.
The table below shows the effect of changing various baseball parameters on exit velocity (EV) and fly ball distance. These numbers were taken from the May 2018 report of the MLB Home Run Committee, Appendices A and B (slightly updated, see link below). Note that increasing the weight by 0.125 oz decreases the EV (resulting in a decrease in distance by 4.6 ft) and decreases the drag acceleration (resulting in an increase in distance by 3.5 ft), so that the net change in distance is a decrease of 1.1 ft.
Consider the following made-up example (i.e., these numbers have nothing to do with any actual change in the ball): Suppose the weight is smaller by 0.1 oz, the circumference is smaller by 0.05 in, and the CCOR is smaller by 0.01. The net effect on distance will by:
1.1*(0.1/0.125) + 3.7*(0.05/0.125) -4.9*(0.01/0.008) ft, or -3.8 ft.​

0.125 oz is approximately 3.5 grams so the six gram difference in weight is roughly two to three feet in distance? And, again their allowable weight difference is 14 grams.


http://baseball.physics.illinois.edu/EffectOfChangingBallParameters.htm
 

DennyDoyle'sBoil

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Dr. Meredith WIlls did a study of baseballs in 2021. Here's a graph of what she found:

View attachment 46876
I wonder where this "improved performance standards" language comes from. It is carrying a lot of water in that graphic.

The implication seems to be that MLB issued a memo that said "we have a problem and henceforth it will be fixed with a new performance standard and new balls."

My guess is that this is not really what the memo said. I think it was to give notice that new balls were being introduced and not necessarily that they were going to toss hundreds of thousands of old balls. But I could be wrong. The memo doesn't seem to be anywhere on line. Not that I could find at least. The most detailed article about it was in the Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/08/sports/baseball/mlb-change-baseball-rawlings.html

The new balls were made in 2019 and 2020. That suggests to me that they have an awful lot of balls stockpiled and a gradual phase out does not seem unreasonable to me.

But even if the memo was intended to declare a new "improved performance standard" that would completely and immediately supplant the old regime, I'm still at Hanlon's razor.
 

Koufax

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I'm at mountains being made over a 1 gram molehill. I can't believe this got traction even here.
 

greek_gawd_of_walks

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I guess my thinking is, there shouldn't have been anything "secret". League should've just said, "hey, two different weight balls will be employed. The weight variance will be within the parameters of the bylaws". No need for secrecy.

I don't think this is really worth the ink or the ire it's going to cause (the headline is eye catching), but the timing heading into a cba lockout gives people something to talk about. Even on something small, underhandedness never is a good look, but this is pretty "mehh" to me. Would've been worse if the league was directly asked if there was something different and offered a straight denial and then this comes out. Maybe they were at one point and I missed it
 

barbed wire Bob

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I guess my thinking is, there shouldn't have been anything "secret". League should've just said, "hey, two different weight balls will be employed. The weight variance will be within the parameters of the bylaws". No need for secrecy.

I don't think this is really worth the ink or the ire it's going to cause (the headline is eye catching), but the timing heading into a cba lockout gives people something to talk about. Even on something small, underhandedness never is a good look, but this is pretty "mehh" to me. Would've been worse if the league was directly asked if there was something different and offered a straight denial and then this comes out. Maybe they were at one point and I missed it
The league was pretty open about the ball change. The Athletic had a couple of good articles explaining the changes to the ball before the start of the season. In neither article does it say how the new balls will be introduced so my guess is that no one gave it a second thought and it’s pretty obvious the league considered the difference between the balls to be insignificant and well within the established rules. So they probably dumped a bag of the new balls into a bin containing old balls and never gave it a second thought. Little did they know that a physicist and a pitcher with too much time on their hands and a reporter for Business Insider would blow this out of proportion.

https://theathletic.com/2375121/2021/02/08/mlb-changes-baseball-deadening/?redirected=1
https://theathletic.com/news/mlb-baseball-change/XgqBpvAcNP49/
 
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greek_gawd_of_walks

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The league was pretty open about the ball change. The Athletic had a couple of good articles explaining the changes to the ball before the start of the season. In neither article does it say how the new balls will be introduced so my guess is that no one gave it a second thought and it’s pretty obvious the league considered the difference between the balls to be insignificant and well within the established rules. So they probably dumped a bag of the new balls into a bin containing old balls and never gave it a second thought. Little did they know that a physicist and a pitcher with too much time on their hands and a reporter for Business Insider would blow this out of proportion.

https://theathletic.com/2375121/2021/02/08/mlb-changes-baseball-deadening/?redirected=1
https://theathletic.com/news/mlb-baseball-change/XgqBpvAcNP49/
That's more or less what I thought this was. Thanks.
 

scottyno

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The league was pretty open about the ball change. The Athletic had a couple of good articles explaining the changes to the ball before the start of the season. In neither article does it say how the new balls will be introduced so my guess is that no one gave it a second thought and it’s pretty obvious the league considered the difference between the balls to be insignificant and well within the established rules. So they probably dumped a bag of the new balls into a bin containing old balls and never gave it a second thought. Little did they know that a physicist and a pitcher with too much time on their hands and a reporter for Business Insider would blow this out of proportion.

https://theathletic.com/2375121/2021/02/08/mlb-changes-baseball-deadening/?redirected=1
https://theathletic.com/news/mlb-baseball-change/XgqBpvAcNP49/
Didn't Manfred admit a few years ago back when they had the giant home run rise because of the balls that MLB had no idea how a small change in the ball would impact things? Doing the same thing again and not realizing that a small change can make pretty huge changes in home run rates would be a pretty huge error.
 

barbed wire Bob

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Didn't Manfred admit a few years ago back when they had the giant home run rise because of the balls that MLB had no idea how a small change in the ball would impact things? Doing the same thing again and not realizing that a small change can make pretty huge changes in home run rates would be a pretty huge error.
Manfred talked about the balls having less drag in 2019 and how they were trying to figure out why.
https://nypost.com/2019/06/20/the-balls-arent-juiced-mlb-explains-rise-in-home-runs/

Saris and Rosenthal talked about how small changes in the ball in the first article I posted. but they also point out that the natural variations in handmade balls is difficult to reduce. When you look at a video of how a baseball is made then you get an understanding why.
View: https://youtu.be/rFT3PNQqgZE
 

Harry Hooper

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I would put a link to the "MLB allowed 4 teams to use humidors" thread here if I could find it.
 

OCD SS

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Effectively Wild Ep. 1781 had a good interview with the article's author, Bradford William Davis, and Dr Meredith Wills who did the research to pull the balls apart and get the measurements & batch codes that exposed the mess (she has an interesting background in physics, statistics, and knitting).

The episode goes into a lot depth about different aspects of the ball, but I think the main take away, according to them, is that MLB (and Manfred) promised to be transparent on any new changes to the ball following the juiced ball, and then they went back to doing whatever they wanted and changing the ball without telling anyone. They do specifically mention that the memo that came out about the new ball earlier in the year basically happened right after they reached out to MLB for comment based on what they discovered.