Official MLB baseballs have undergone quite a few manufacturing changes over the last few years, contributing to a significant increase in the league home run rate. The New York Times reported on Monday that the baseball manufacturing design has changed again, and balls used in the 2021 season will feature “a slightly reduced weight and slightly decreased bounciness, the latter of which could reduce home runs.”
Spinning off from this news, a Twitter thread broke out specifically about seam height that got me thinking about Coors Field…
Really happy to hear that changes to the ball are on the table. As long as that is the case, how about standardizing the seams instead of making pitchers play Russian Roulette? https://t.co/f5FyjQkbya— (@NotRealCertain) February 8, 2021
The thing about seam height is that it tends to produce more “seam-shifted wake” (SSW) which can make pitches harder to hit. According to Eno Sarris, SSW can make a pitch very deceptive. He describes it by comparing Spencer Turnbull’s two-seam fastball to his four-seamer: “Same axis, close to the same velos, similar spin rates — very different movement.”
If the idea behind ball changes is to have more control over run production, it may behoove MLB to investigate standardizing the seam height of baseballs. (A recent study indicated that official MLB baseballs could have a seam height anywhere between 0.022 inches to 0.040 inches). Furthermore, they could go as far as increasing the seam size of balls used in high run-scoring environments such as Coors Field to keep run scoring in line with the rest of MLB.
While it’s an interesting take, these changes would seem to impact both teams and thus no one team suffers a disadvantage whether the ball used has a high propensity to leave the park or not. Right?
Actually, on this topic, I recall Charlie Blackmon having something to say about that. During the 2019 season, Blackmon grew frustrated with what he considered “the single greatest disadvantage every Rockies hitter has faced for 27 years.” To combat this, he established a new routine in batting practice. Nick Groke reported that “he started using a pitching machine that could duplicate pitches with high spin rates and velocity, a three-rotor machine he could tune to mimic that night’s pitcher.”
It’s the constant back-and-forth, in-and-out of high elevation traveling over the course of a full MLB season that really puts the Rockies at a disadvantage. This applies to pitchers also, as command of their pitches is going to be quite different in the other low-altitude ballparks across MLB compared to their home field.
Going back to having different seam heights on baseballs, it’s not going to directly fix the issue of the way a ball behaves in the Rocky Mountain air. Understanding how the ball moves is complex and impacted by many things, including velocity, spin rate, and SSW. But if SSW can be somewhat regulated, it would eliminate one variable from the mix for Rockies players to deal with.
As for the changes to the baseball, there will still be a lot of home runs at Coors Field this season.
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While the prospect package delivered to the Rockies seems underwhelming considering what the Rockies gave up in the Arenado deal, they do offer some level of future value for the franchise. Nick Groke of The Athletic gives his take on the new arrivals. He likes Austin Gomber to fill the fifth spot in the starting rotation right away after a solid 2020 season. Both Elehuris Montero and Mateo Gil have a shot at making the big leagues. Montero arrives as a corner infield power bat but with some strikeout issues to address. Gil comes as a utility player “with advanced instincts in the field and at the plate.” The Rockies added a pair of right-handed pitchers in Tony Locey and Jake Sommers, who will likely end up in the bullpen and could be in the big leagues as early as the 2022 season.
The shortened 2020 season introduced us to some new things: notably the universal DH, seven-inning doubleheader games, a bonus baserunner in extra innings, and expanded playoffs. Yesterday, an agreement struck between MLB and the player’s union has ensured that the doubleheader and extra innings rules of 2020 will be incorporated into the 2021 season. In addition, the agreement addressed health protocols which “includes more sophisticated contact tracing for COVID-19.”
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