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MLB accused of juicing baseballs following historic home run surge

A baseball being injected with a serum
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Yesterday's Home Run Derby news cycle began with All-Star Justin Verlander emphatically saying that the league is juicing the baseballs, adding more fuel to an already raging fire.

By the numbers: MLB teams are projected to hit at least 6,463 home runs this season, which would break the all-time record set in 2017 (6,105) by almost 400, per WashPost.

"It's a f---ing joke. Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you've got [commissioner Rob] Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f---ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened.
Manfred, the first time he came in, what'd he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It's not coincidence. We're not idiots. ... They've been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever. They know how to do it."
— All-Star Justin Verlander, via ESPN

Context: MLB does in fact own Rawlings, but they purchased the company last summer — more than two years into this ongoing home run surge. Obviously, that hurts the argument that the balls were suddenly altered once MLB took control.

  • On the other hand, multiple independent studies have shown that, beginning in 2015, the balls changed. So perhaps MLB was influencing the design before the purchase?
  • Hitters are being coached to elevate the ball like never before, and that is certainly contributing to the record numbers, but something is going on with the balls, and the players know it.

The bottom line: I'm not sure we've ever seen anything quite like this juiced ball saga, and MLB's "nothing to see here!" stance grows more disingenuous by the day.

  • And here's the crazy part: If they'd just admit that something significant is going on with the balls — instead of gingerly suggesting that maybe something is afoot — would anybody be mad? Fans love homers, and even pitchers would likely appreciate the transparency.
  • Instead, Manfred continues to play defense, seemingly worried that anything he says will make the league look bad when, in reality, the only thing making the league look bad is that they refuse to fully acknowledge what every fan and player is thinking.

Go deeper: Baseball's season of extremes