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World Series, MVP, and Cy Young award-winning pitcher Justin Verlander made headlines in 2019 when he claimed that he believed the baseballs in the MLB were juiced.
His claim was quickly denied by Major League Baseball, but many other pitchers in the league shared his stance.
While it wasn’t until 2019 that Verlander made his beliefs public, several fans of the game started wondering if there was some juicing of the baseballs going on when home run numbers reached all-time highs in 2017.
So if the MLB did begin to juice the baseballs in 2017, how did they do it?
There are a few ways to juice a baseball that include altering the seams, altering the density of the ball, and altering the composition of the ball.
Juicing a baseball is no easy task, but here are some ways it can be done.
1. Altering the Seams
There are 216 stitches on a baseball that make up the ball’s 108 seams. (There is some good trivia for you.) The seams are an important part of the ball as they are crucial in the movement of pitches.
One way to juice a baseball is to lower the seams. A baseball with lower seams is more aerodynamic and will travel farther when it is hit.
If you ever catch a foul ball at a Major League or Minor League game, you will notice that there is a big difference in the seams compared to amateur level baseballs.
This has always been the case, but around 2017, when the MLB experienced a jump in home run totals, there was speculation that the seams on the ball were even lower than in previous years.
Altering the seams on the ball also has a direct effect on the quality of pitches that pitchers are able to throw which has an indirect effect on hitters.
While the ball is more aerodynamic and allows a pitcher’s fastball to be thrown a bit harder, typically, breaking balls don’t move as much on baseballs with lower seams. This is because breaking balls require the pitcher to pull on the seams.
The higher the seams, the more pull he can create; the lower the seams, the less pull he can create.
2. Altering the Density
Anyone who has been around the game of baseball has attempted to deconstruct a baseball by hand. When doing this for the first time, people are often surprised to see what makes up the inside of the ball. This material on the inside has a tremendous effect on how far the ball travels.
When the core of the baseball is less dense, the ball is lighter and tends to travel further.
Dr. Meng Law, Dr. Jay Acharya, and Darryl Hwang of the Keck School of Medicine at USC conducted a study of Major League baseballs produced before and after the 2017 MLB season.
What they found was that the core of the baseballs produced after 2017 weighed about 40 percent less dense than those produced before it. They noticed this in the pink, outermost core of the baseball.
In 2017, the MLB home run record that was set in 2000 (during the steroid era) was broken when players across the league hit a total of 6,105. That is almost 500 more home runs than the previous record.
What really caught people’s attention was the fact that the record breaking number was also about 5000 more home runs than the previous year (2016). This is what led to USC’s study of the makeup of the ball.
3. Altering the Composition
Have you ever compared two baseballs from two different brands and noticed a difference? Well, you are not crazy. Sometimes the make-up of the baseball can differ depending on the brand.
The composition of the baseball, both inside and outside, has an effect on the ball’s ability to travel through the air. Altering the composition of either can make the ball travel further.
Most baseballs consist of cowhide or rawhide on the outside, but some of the cheaper balls are sometimes made with a more plastic-like coating. Balls made with a cheaper material don’t travel as far as balls made with cowhide.
Also, researchers at Kent State found that there was a slightly different composition of the core in the same baseballs studied by the USC staff. They found that the new baseballs contained about 7 percent more polymer and about 10 percent less silicon on the outer layer of the core.
There is often more oxygen present in polymers than silicons which may be the reason the newer balls were less dense. Polymer also likely makes the ball bouncier, so even the 7 percent more polymer in the new ball likely had an effect on the distance the ball can travel.
The lesson here is that in order to juice a baseball, you have to find a way to make the core lighter and bouncier.
Why are the seams on an MLB baseball lower than on youth baseballs?
MLB pitchers have bigger hands and more command of their pitches which allows them to better grip a baseball with lower seams than a young player could. The higher seams on youth baseballs are more forgiving for young pitchers with smaller hands and less arm strength.
Why do baseballs travel further at Coors Field in Colorado?
Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play their home games, is located in Denver, Colorado. Denver sits at a higher altitude than most other cities which means the air is less dense allowing the ball to travel further.
Does the MLB juice baseballs on purpose?
While many fans and players have speculated that the MLB has purposefully juiced baseballs in recent years to increase offensive numbers, the league has denied these rumors.