Run-scoring and related offensive outputs are down in 2022, and there’s ample reason to suspect that the properties of the baseball itself has much to do with that. MLB has a rich recent history of putting in play baseballs that vary widely in those properties from year to year and even within the same season, and 2022 appears to be no exception.
In general terms, pitchers won’t object to “deadened” baseballs, just as hitters won’t recoil from the “juiced” variants. Both sets of players and their dueling interests, however, appreciate consistency when it comes to this most essential piece of equipment.
That brings us to the latest conspiracy theory floated by the New York Mets. Mets hitting coach Eric Chavez recently told Tim Healey of Newsday that his hitters suspect the baseball becomes curiously less deadened during nationally televised games, such as a recent Mets-Phillies tilt last Sunday night on ESPN. Healey writes:
And then in late April, two days before they played the Phillies on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” several hitters gave Chavez a heads up: Watch how the baseballs travel during the premier nationally televised game of the week. They had heard that the balls in those games were in some way different.
“I thought for a second, ‘You guys are full of it,’ ” Chavez said.
And then what happened?
“The ball was traveling farther — balls that weren’t hit as hard. And I’m like, wait a minute, that shouldn’t have happened,” Chavez said. “The ball was just traveling better. That was the eye test, but then we lined it up with what the analytics were telling us.”
It’s worth noting that we heard similar whispers last year with regard to prominent games or series. However, players’ perceptions on such matters may be considered dubious for the usual reasons — confirmation bias, tiny sample size, etc. Indeed, the ball-tracking data from this game don’t particularly back up the perceptions of Mets hitters. It also follows that if MLB had determined that a livelier baseball was good for business, then they’d use that baseball in more than just nationally televised games.
That said, this kind of “kvetching by anecdote” will probably continue until MLB develops better quality control of the baseball or is less inclined to manipulate it intentionally. Yes, the cooler temperature of April and the expanded use of humidors to store baseballs probably play a role, but the baseball itself continues to be the main character whenever the balance between pitching and hitting tilts too much in one direction.