MLB’s Departure From Traditional Values Detrimental to Culture

Alex McNicoll, Sports Editor

From Aaron Judge’s 500-foot blasts to Aroldis Chapman’s 103 mile-an-hour fastballs, there’s something about Major League Baseball that departs from its place in the bedrocks of American society for over 100 years. While baseball, like all sports, is constantly evolving, its growing overreliance on statistics is rapidly changing the sport’s foundation.

Baseball has always been a game whose allure lies as much in the time between actions as it does in the actions themselves. Since there is no game-clock, before each pitch there is a building anticipation, and until the final out, there is potential for something great to happen. All of the life that exists between plays has given the MLB the character and quirks that make baseball America’s pastime. Play calls and rally caps are baseball-specific necessities that simply cannot exist in any other sport. However, as the National Basketball Association and National Football League adapt to a sports culture that gets most of its information from ESPN SportsCenter highlights and online mixtapes, the MLB is moving toward a boom or bust play style.

To say that home runs this year are up would be a monumental understatement. MLB teams are on pace to shatter the record of long balls hit in a season, which was set in the middle of the steroid era, by over 500. However, to trace the story of the MLB’s surge in homers back to its roots, we have to first start with the front office. Sabermetrics, which was popularized in the 2011 movie Moneyball, is the use of advanced analytics to value a player’s overall level of play, and it is sweeping the baseball world. General managers are changing the way they value players, which in turn is changing the shape of the league.

The increase in home runs is only a small piece of the puzzle, as MLB teams are also set to break the record of strikeouts in a season. Home runs and strikeouts have always been proportionally linked, there has never been a time in the history of the league that they have both been so inflated. This is the basis of a phenomenon that is referred to as the “fly-ball revolution.” To front offices that predominantly look at advanced statistics, a strikeout is no more detrimental to the team than a ball that is put in play but ultimately leads to an out. In other words, a player who does not hit for power, but always puts the ball in play, is considered less valuable than one who either strikes out, flies out, or hits a home run every time they are at bat.

Both sides of the ball are seeing a complete makeover as MLB teams start to implement what is known as the shift. Sabermetrics encompass all aspects of baseball, including a player to hit the ball to a certain part of the field. If a batter does not have a history of being able to hit the ball to both sides of the field, then teams will move players from the left side to the right side. However, the easiest way to break the shift is to hit a home run, which is the one place a defender cannot be. Thus, players have even more reason to try and hit fly balls more regularly.

The MLB was hit harder than any other professional sports organization by performance-enhancing drugs. But recently, many speculate that since the MLB cannot juice the players, they decided to juice the balls.

“There’s a lot of people unhappy with the baseball, and I’m getting the same feedback,’’ New York Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen said. “You’re seeing guys going opposite field, breaking their bats, and the balls are flying out.

Multiple pitchers and coaches, such as Justin Verlander, David Price, and Terry Collins, have all claimed that the seams on MLB baseballs have been lowered. Lowered seams are proven to decrease drag, which would not only increase how fast pitches are being thrown, but also how far balls will go after being hit.

The MLB has publicly denied changing the way it makes balls. However there is a wide-range for how high or low the seams on an MLB baseball can be to still fit regulation. In fact, this range is so large that two MLB regulation baseballs hit with the same force at the same angle could vary in distance by up to 49 feet, according to FiveThirtyEight.

As teams are in the midst of the final post-season push, batters are hitting balls further, and pitches are getting faster. While baseball plays are now inflated with 100-plus mile-an-hour pitches and mind-bending moonshots, it is the time between actions, not the actions themselves, that has taken the biggest hit.