One month into the 2022 MLB season, the league is once again dealing with a change to its baseballs.
This time, MLB has reportedly expanded its use of a deadened ball that was partially used last year and begun using humidors at all 30 ballparks. The result is a new dead ball era, with runs down, batting average down and, most noticeably, home runs down.
Except in nationally televised games, if New York Mets hitting coach Eric Chavez is to be believed.
Speaking with Tim Healey of Newsday, Chavez claimed a number of his players told him the ball isn't so dead when the team is playing on ESPN or any number of streaming services. He apparently didn't believe it, until he watched his team play on "Sunday Night Baseball."
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.”
The Mets defeated the Phillies 10-6 in that game, but the Phillies out-homered them 4-0.
Such chatter is a familiar refrain from last season, when players complained that MLB seemed to be using two different balls: a deadened one that seems to be in widespread usage this season and a livelier one similar to the balls that created the recent home run boom.
Chavez claimed more hitting coaches have said the same:
“This is the one thing about analytics. You can’t really argue, right? You can’t argue. These are facts,” he said. “We’ve been hitting balls 104, 105 [mph] at the right launch angle that aren’t leaving. And all of a sudden, now we’re hitting balls 95 — a little less hard than the other balls — and those balls are traveling on Sunday night.’’
Chavez added, noting that hitting coaches around the majors have heard and said the same: “We can argue other things until you’re blue in the face, but we know that with analytics that if you hit a ball over 100 at the right launch angle, it should be a homer most of the time. That’s telling us there’s something going on.”
True or not, MLB brought all these conspiracy theories on itself when it a) started fiddling with the ball and b) purchased the company in charge of producing said balls. It's inadvisable to take a group of players' feelings in a one-month sample as gospel, but this doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.