Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers weigh in on a national baseball conversation

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 13: Zach Britton
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 13: Zach Britton /

The Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers weigh in on the increase in home runs in the MLB, and what could be causing them.

The Baltimore Orioles are one of the few teams that is not on pace for more home runs in 2017 than in previous years, a trend around baseball.

I’ll admit, I spent a few hours on Saturday morning/early afternoon watching a few different baseball shows.

The first was Quick Pitch on MLB Network. They discussed that Justin Smoak‘s home run on Friday night against Doug Fister and the Red Sox set a record for the most home runs in one month.

Then, on Wall-to-Wall Baseball on MASN, Mark Viviano of WJZ, Dave Johnson and Tom Davis were discussing the changes to the baseball. Viviano discussed that he has talked to Baltimore Orioles pitchers Darren O’Day, Zach Britton and Brad Brach about the baseballs being used by Major League Baseball.

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This is part of what has become a national discussion. What is going on with the baseballs that MLB is using? Is the core wound tighter? Are the seams raised? Are they lowered?

Britton told Viviano that he believes the balls are definitely different than they have been in the past, and that he would like MLB to just admit it, if that is the case.

The Ringer did a study with the balls on June 14. The article states that as of June 14, with approximately 40 percent of the season over, the home run count was at 57 percent of the 2014 number.

The article explains that the balls used in the major leagues are manufactured in Costa Rica. Which, by the way, is different from where the AAA balls are made (China). Which also leads to an interesting discussion Dave Johnson brought up on Wall-to-Wall Baseball. Johnson discussed that Zach Britton has been carrying major league balls with him for his rehab stints, and so the ball used when he is pitching is different from that from the rest of the pitchers in the game.

Wouldn’t it make sense if the minor leagues also used the same ball as the major leagues? One would think.

Anyways, back to the balls and home runs.

When it comes down to it, the way a ball responds of the bat is primarily determined by the ball’s coefficient of restitution, or COR. The COR determines how the ball reacts when it is hit. How much it contracts after being hit.

For the article, The Ringer sent balls to the Sport Science Lab at Washington State to have them studied. What they found is with the new balls, the COR is higher, seam height is lower, circumference is smaller, they weigh less and the ball is stiffer. When viewed separately, each of these items are minor changes. When combined, it leads to balls that travel 7 feet further and 1.43 miles per hour faster.

The article goes on to posit that if players are trying to hit the ball in the air more, which numerous articles have discussed this year, that doing so has more of a reward now than ever. Of course, these findings are interesting.

Let’s look at the top 20 in home runs in baseball:

Aaron Judge, George Springer, Cody Bellinger, Joey Votto, Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, Khris Davis, Joey Gallo, Mike Moustakas, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Marcell Ozuna, Scott Schebler, Eric Thames, Adam Duvall, Paul Goldschmidt, Ryon Healy, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman.

Votto, Goldschmidt, Stanton, Reynolds and Zimmerman probably are not surprises. These are guys who have been power hitters throughout their career. Davis, Ozuna and Thames probably shouldn’t be too surprising either.

But then you see names like Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak. All prodigious power hitters in the minor leagues. Now, they are living up to expectations in the major leagues, after years of falling short.

The other noticeable thing is that the top two players are both rookies. Could this have to do with the ball traveling further in the major leagues than minor leagues?

Judge never hit more than 21 home runs in a season in the minor leagues. He started his major league career in 2016 with 4 HRs in 95 plate appearances, an average of 1 HR per 24 plate appearances. This year, 27 in 334 plate appearances, one in every 12.4 at-bats.

As for Bellinger, he has 24 home runs in 261 plate appearances, one every 10.9 at-bats. Now, Bellinger was a more prodigious home run hitter in the minor leagues, hitting 30 in 2015 and 29 in 2016.

The discussion is an interesting one. Is the ball different? Should it be?

What does it mean for pitchers if it is different? Does it mean what Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton did last year is even more remarkable? Does it alter what we think of guys like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer compared to other great pitchers in history?

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I agree with Britton here. If the ball is different, come out and tell us that it is. It will help explain some of the baffling power numbers.