Posted on October 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Even before the offensive explosion that was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, there was speculation among players that the baseballs being used were somehow different from the ones used during the regular season. After a 13-12 game that saw aces Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel exit long before they were expected to, the belief that World Series balls are “juiced” is at an all-time high.
Major League Baseball maintains that World Series balls, and those used throughout the playoffs, are the same as the ones used during the regular season aside from their gold stamping, which is blue during the regular season. Both both pitchers and pitching coaches from the Astros and Dodgers have noticed that the balls are different. They appear to be made from a different type of leather that makes them slicker.
“I just want to know why?” asks Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “Why in the world would the baseballs in the World Series be different? Because you can see the difference. You can feel it. I don’t understand it at all.”
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Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. reportedly tested himself with a blindfold on and was able to discern a difference between baseballs used during the regular season and those currently being used in the World Series. McCullers also tried putting super glue on his fingers to help him grip the ball. But the super glue only resulted in small rubber flakes coming off the ball and sticking to his fingers.
“The balls are different,” asserts McCullers. “I don’t know what the difference is. If you write with a No. 2 pencil 10,000 times and someone gives you a pen, you’re gonna know the difference. This is our craft. This is what we do. We know. We feel the ball. Something has changed.”
The biggest issue appears to be with throwing a slider. Some of the best pitchers in the game have been less effective with their slider during the World Series. Justin Verlander got just one swing-and-miss on 17 sliders he threw in Game 2, which is hard to believe based on his track record. Yu Darvish, who had been dominant in his first two postseason starts, crashed out of Game 3. He said afterward that he couldn’t throw his slider like he usually does.
“Yu noticed the difference,” says Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. “He told me the balls were slicker and he had trouble throwing the slider because of how slick they were. He wasn’t able to throw his slider the same way.”
While many of the World Series pitchers have noted a difference, there’s not universal agreement that something with the baseballs is amiss. Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill, who will start Tuesday’s Game 6 against Verlander, says the balls have been “extremely consistent” during the postseason. Astros A.J. Hinch also says that he hasn’t noticed a difference.
However, it’s tough to ignore how many postseason games this year have been dominated by offense rather than pitching. Even during the divisional round, games started by elite pitchers turned into slugfests dominated by the home run ball.
The regular season saw a record number of home runs hit, with one being hit every 27 at-bats. During the World Series, that number has jumped to a home run every 17.5 at-bats. Even in a small-sample-size, that points to something being different. Even if the players can’t prove it, they’ve convinced themselves that the World Series baseballs are different and having a clear impact on the Fall Classic.
“I know (Commissioner Rob Manfred) says the balls haven’t changed, but there’s enough information out there to say that’s not true,” Verlander said prior to Sunday’s explosive Game 5. “On the one hand, you can have someone who manufactures the balls (say) they’re not different, and on the other hand, you can say people who have held the ball in their hand their entire lives are saying something’s different. You value one (opinion) over the other. You take your pick.”