Home runs are on the rise — literally — as more and more baseballs seem to be flying out of ballparks. MLB’s home run spike has been a trend for a few years now, but there is no definitive answer as to why.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have taken advantage of this, setting several franchise home run records in recent seasons. As the power bonanza continued into 2019, the Dodgers’ 40 home runs in May helped the league set a new record of 1,135 homers in a single calendar month.
The Dodgers have also been victimized by this trend in some ways, however, as home runs were key in their back-to-back World Series losses against the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
While there is still plenty of confusion about how the home run trend started, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently offered the closest thing yet to an official explanation from the league.
Manfred explained a recent independent study into the makeup of game-used baseballs may have given the league more clarity into why the balls seem to fly further than ever, via David Lennon of Newsday:
“We believe that the batch of baseballs that we have this year have less drag,” Manfred said. “Our thinking in that regard was colored by the report that was done last year that identified that as an issue. Our ongoing conversations with the scientists suggest that. We continue to focus on trying to figure out exactly why that is.
“They [Rawlings] haven’t changed their process in any meaningful way. They haven’t changed their materials. There’s two points that I would make, even in the report last year: The scientists identified the pill in the baseball — not what it was actually composed of — but the centering of the pill in the baseball as something that could be a drag issue. To the extent that the pill is not perfectly centered, the ball wobbles when it’s hit, creates more drag. We think one of the things that may be happening is they’re getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag.”
The “pill” Manfred referred to is the hard rubber cork at the center of every baseball, which effectively acts as its core. The cork is wrapped with several outer layers before the exterior leather and stitching is added.
The league has taken steps to improve the drag of baseballs in recent years, from rubbing them down with mud before games to storing them in closed, air-conditioned rooms so they can get weighed down by humidity.
It remains to be seen what, if anything, Manfred will do if this new information can be more definitively proven. All the while, players continue to lob criticism at MLB for seemingly not providing a clear-cut reason behind the home run spike.