Maybe Gavin Lux was right

As crushing as the moment was at the time, even Dodgers fans had to have a laugh at Gavin Lux‘s bewildered reaction to what he thought was a game-tying ninth-inning homer ending up just feet short on the warning track.

It’s still funny, but some recent news has made me wonder — even aside from it being a barrel — if Lux was right that the ball should’ve sailed out.

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A few days ago, Bradford William Davis dropped an article featuring research from Dr. Meredith Wills, which showed that MLB used two different baseballs in 2021, something the league then admitted.

According to a new study by Meredith Wills, a Society for American Baseball Research award-winning astrophysicist, the league used two distinct types of baseballs — one lighter and deader than the other — during the 2021 season. By dissecting and carefully measuring hundreds of balls used in 15 major-league parks, Wills found that the league did indeed introduce a new ball with a lighter center, as it pledged to do in the February memo. But she also found that MLB continued to use the older, heavier-center ball at the same time, apparently without telling fans, clubs, or players.

In a statement, MLB confirmed Wills’ findings: It did indeed use two different balls last season. “Every baseball used in a 2021 MLB game, without exception, met existing specifications and performed as expected,” the league said. But after approving the shift to the new “re-centered” ball for 2021, it said, COVID-19 forced Rawlings to backtrack and use older balls to cover for production delays.

It’s an insightful article that you should read to understand all the potential implications of this, but it also setup nicely for a shitpost from me to Gavin about his reaction.

And it was just a joke, but then Derek Albin of Views From 314 Feet wrote about the potential impact the different balls may have had on individual teams. It’s a Yankees blog so he focused on the Yankees, finding that at home they seemed to play with a higher proportion of deadened balls, which impacted the distance batted balls travelled.

One individual ended up doing the home and away comparisons for all the teams, and found that the Dodgers were one of those also seemingly adversely impacted.

Now there are a bunch of problems with taking all this as conclusive, some of which the article itself addresses.

Now, it’s important to caveat that the data I pulled is from the entire season, meaning that it includes data before and after the foreign substance crackdown. Sticky stuff does impact drag, which can make for an inconsistent environment in the data I grabbed. Plus, weather plays a role, further complicating environments as no single day is the same as another. I obviously don’t have access to every single baseball used at Yankee Stadium, either.

Additionally, and most importantly, it’s entirely possible that teams simply hit balls harder and with better launch angles on the road than at home. And for the Dodgers, the barrels data is likely impacted by playing at Coors Field to some extent (even though they also play at a lot of pitchers’ parks as well), with 13% of the barrels taking place there.

That said, there are things that make you wonder about the impact of the balls when one goes through the data. Like this Max Muncy homer exited at 107.7 mph at a 27 degree launch angle off a 96 mph J.B. Bukauskas fastball and went 403 feet in 88 degree weather with seven mph winds blowing out to center.

Then this Muncy homer exited at 107.1 mph at a 27 degree launch angle off a 79 mph Sam Selman slider and went 433 feet in 58 degree weather with 14 mph winds blowing out to center.

So a ball hit softer off a pitch thrown much softer (every mph increase from the pitch in equals about a foot of distance) went 30 feet further in colder weather with a minimal wind advantage. I’m sure there are explanations that narrow the gap, but seeing stuff like this does raise questions for me, and that’s a problem for MLB.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that anything was unfair to any specific team or that the league did this maliciously, because the evidence I’ve seen doesn’t support this. All I’m saying is that it’s yet another thing that fans have to wonder about other than actual baseball games, as the league certainly doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. Did they give more of a certain baseball to one team? One region? Did they mix and match baseballs within one game? One series? How many games might this have impacted? And so on and so forth. All valid inquiries.

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Basically, a moment like Gavin Lux’s non-homer should be a bewildering and amusing “that’s baseball” thing, where sometimes things just don’t go your way and we laugh at the absurdity of the sport. And we still can, but due to the lack of transparency from MLB on things as fundamental as the baseballs they play with, there always seems to be a necessary caveat to moments nowadays, where fans have to be wondering if a player was robbed of the best moment of their career and was instead turned into a meme all because they happened to hit a deader baseball rather than a livelier one.

About Chad Moriyama

"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times