In an attempt to deal with a years-long homerun spree, MLB has lightly cushioned its baseballs for the 2021 season. Rawlings was tasked with releasing tension on the first of three woolen wraps at inside the ball, which reduced its weight without changing its size.
The league expected the changes to be subtle, but the baseballs were noticeably lighter and didn’t travel as far off the bat. Various players noted throughout the year that they could tell the baseballs in play also had a different feel.
While the original plan was to use the redesigned baseball year-round, a study by astrophysicist Meredith Wills found that MLB actually used two different baseballs. The league attributed the problem to production delays caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
That won’t be an issue this year, as MLB confirmed in a memo that only baseballs made after the 2021 production change are used this season, according to Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
In a March 29 memo sent to general managers, assistant general managers, managers, clubhouse managers and stadium operations managers, the commissioner’s office said: “These production issues have now been resolved and the 2022 season will only be played with balls manufactured after the 2021 manufacturing change. No manufacturing changes have been made for the 2022 season.”
The new baseball, lighter than that used at the start of the 2021 season, has brought offensive numbers back to levels not seen since the 1980s. The home run rate is back to where it was in the mid-2010s, strikeouts are up and the league-wide batting average is down.
On the other hand, the new bullet currently produces the highest average exit velocity of the Statcast era. However, it also came with some of the highest drag numbers, meaning less distance on the balls hit.
All 30 MLB teams use a humidor for the 2022 season
The fact that all 30 MLB teams store their baseballs in a basement before their games in an effort to control some of the inconsistencies between them may also affect offensive numbers this season.
Humidifiers work by bringing baseballs to medium humidity, which means that in a dry park, baseballs will become wetter and therefore heavier. In wet parks, however, a cellar will dry out baseballs and make them feel lighter.
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