‘Just Come Out and Say It’: Players Want Answers on the Changing Ball

CLEVELAND — Justin Verlander was scheduled to throw the first pitch of the All-Star Game here on Tuesday night. To Verlander, the ace of the Houston Astros, the baseball used in the majors now seems to be filled with plutonium, part of a secret plot by the league to increase home runs. The numbers support his suspicions, with homers at an all-time high.

Yet the man with his signature stamped on the baseball — Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. — insisted on Tuesday there was no conspiracy. In fact, Manfred said, his bosses want fewer home runs, not more.

“Baseball has done nothing, given no direction, for an alteration in the baseball,” Manfred said, mentioning that Major League Baseball had commissioned an independent study last year to prove it.

“You know, the biggest flaw in that logic is that baseball somehow wants more home runs,” he added. “If you sat in an owner’s meeting and listened to people talk about the way our game’s being played, that is not the sentiment among the owners for whom I work. There is no desire on the part of ownership to increase the number of home runs in the game. To the contrary, they’re concerned about how many we have.”

Charlie Morton, a Tampa Bay Rays right-hander, said he noticed in 2015 that he suddenly seemed to get less sink on his pitches. He adjusted by altering his pitching style — he now thrives with high fastballs and curves — but would still like to know why the ball changed.

“If the ball’s different, and intentionally different, I guess the one thing I would ask is just some transparency,” Morton said. “If the league is trying to do something different and get a different result with balls in play, I think for history’s sake and for the integrity of the game that there would be transparency.”

Statistics also affect players’ paychecks, through free agency and salary arbitration, noted Jake Odorizzi, a right-hander for the Minnesota Twins, one of four teams on pace to break the season home run record set last year by the Yankees. Odorizzi would welcome an explanation from M.L.B.

“If there’s something that’s potentially altering that, just come out and say it,” Odorizzi said. “I think, as players, we’ve gotten to the point now where we’ve accepted it.”

Manfred insisted that the league has been open about the issue, pointing repeatedly to his study, which determined that while the ball was not harder, it was producing less drag through the air. The league has struggled to identify the cause of that phenomenon, but it has tried; M.L.B. officials said their researchers had even developed lasers to study the height and width of the ball’s seams.

Yet because every ball is made with natural materials and hand-sewn in Costa Rica, they said, an array of variables is always in play. The league wants stricter manufacturing parameters to produce more consistency, but says that is not easy to achieve.

“You need to appreciate how small the variations are in the manufacturing process that can produce a change in the way the ball performs,” Manfred said, adding later, “The challenge for us is to get better control over that variation, tighten those specifications and get more comfortable with how that ball’s going to perform from year to year.”

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