Allegany Communications Sports

You’re watching a lot of Major League Baseball these days? You’re watching some?

If you are you’ve noticed a lot of hard-hit balls, or, as the new analytics vernacular has it, “barreled up” at high “exit velocity,” die in the air like a kite and gently fall into an outfielder’s glove the way Charlie Brown’s kite invariably found that kite-eating tree.

(The Charlie Brown kite-eating tree comes from a guy from the generation that just used to say, “Man, that guy really hit the ball hard,” instead of “the ball was barreled up at high exit velocity.”)

It’s still early in the season, you say. The air is damp, you say. Balls rarely carry this early in the spring.

Uh, it’s the first week of May …

You’ve also noticed a lot of low-scoring games if you’re watching, which, personally, I have no problem with. But you also notice the lowest collective team batting averages since, likely, the 1972 season, which so alarmed American League team owners at the time they instituted what devoted National League fans (or Senior Circuiters) called a carnival act and “not real baseball” — namely, the designated hitter.

Well, almost 40 years later, Major League Baseball has finally made the designated hitter universal, as this is the first season in history the National League is using the DH, which is long past due given interleague play, the expansion of interleague play beginning next year, and the American League having always been at a disadvantage in the World Series when pitchers had to hit in National League ballparks.

So be real, will ya? For nearly 40 years the National League was the only organized baseball league in the entire world that did not use the designated hitter, so, yes, it’s about freaking time.

As for the current state of the game, while it’s true there was an abbreviated spring training due to the asinine owners’ lockout, think about it: Through every full spring training that we can remember, the hitters have always been ahead of the pitchers heading into May; not the other way around, as the case strongly appears to be this year.

Heck, even the Orioles pitching has been pretty much lights out so far, with less than a handful of exceptions. So what’s the explanation?

It’s the ball, stupid. Even pitchers think so, so what does that tell you?

Pitchers say the Rawlings baseball being used this year is slicker than previous baseballs have been and makes it difficult for them to achieve a high spin rate, which means they don’t have the control over where the ball is going the way they once had. Which is also a reason it might seem more batters are being hit by pitches.

Now, the HBP rate is only slightly higher this season than it was at this point last year, but what we’ve seen is batters being hit when pitchers don’t even appear to be throwing inside.

Pitchers also say the new ball does not absorb the mud that is put on each baseball before the game to help strengthen the pitchers’ grip on it. The new rosin bag MLB has put on mounds in every ballpark is not effective either, according to the pitchers, leading them to believe MLB is, in fact, trying to increase offense by decreasing pitchers’ spin rates, which is why you see umpires check every new pitcher’s hands at the end of every first inning he pitches.

As for MLB batters, they call the new baseball mush, meaning, obviously, the baseballs are softer than they used to be. That might have something to do with the humidors the balls are stored in prior to each game in all 30 big-league ballparks.

The new MLB baseball also has high seams, which makes the ball drag – particularly on fly balls. Hence, the distance of balls hit in the air is cut down. Now, if MLB decides to go to a different ball in the middle of the season the way most pitchers swear it did last year, things might change.

Here are two things to keep in mind: In 2018, the 131-year-old Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., the company that makes Major League baseballs, was sold to a private equity fund for nearly $400 million. One of the co-investors? Major League Baseball.

Here is another thing to consider: I believe MLB has dumbed down the ball on purpose in an effort to get the game away from this horse dump launch angle, all-or-nothing home run or strikeout approach; and for once, I would agree with this current regime of MLB because this is the approach that has made the game so boring and, in fact, has begun to kill the game.

It kills me to ever agree with the Weasel Rob Manfred, but fans want to see action; not home runs and/or strikeouts every batter. Fans want to see baserunners. Fans want to see defense, hit-and-run plays and timely homers and strikeouts.

A baseball with high seams drags and doesn’t travel as far, particularly when it is hit in the air. Maybe big-league players will figure this out, particularly if it’s contract year, and begin to hit the ball up the middle, hit line drives, hit to the gaps and hit the other way and behind baserunners.

If they do, this would be a very good thing. And it will keep the big-league game strong and the best game anybody ever devised.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT