NEW YORK — Monday night, when Marcus Stroman was forced to leave an outing early due to a blister on his pitching hand, he made it clear he feels something other than general wear and tear led to the issue.
“I’ve never had a blister ever in my life. Nothing even remotely close to having a blister. It’s crazy. It’s extremely frustrating,” Stroman said. “I feel like it’s an epidemic that’s happened across the big leagues now. A bunch of pitchers getting blisters. Guys who have never had blisters before. For MLB to turn their back to it, I think that’s kind of crazy.
“I have no theory. But, obviously, it’s not a coincidence that it’s happening to so many guys all of a sudden. It’s not a coincidence.”
There has been plenty of discussion regarding changes to the baseballs used in MLB this season, most of it in response to the fact MLB is on pace to set a new record for total home runs hit, one that would eclipse the previous mark of 6,186 set in 2,000.
Earlier this year, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman found through an independent study that balls used after the 2015 all-star break had a higher coefficient of restitution — or bounciness — along with lower circumferences and seam heights.
Pivoting off the work done by Lindbergh and Lichtman, FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur found there has been a noticeable drop in air resistance on pitches thrown since 2015, which suggests a structural change to the baseball itself.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has denied any knowledge of changes to the baseballs used in MLB, recently telling USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that the league uses a third-party consultant to test the baseball’s impact on offence and that no evidence has been turned up.
In a piece by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Manfred responded to the findings in The Ringer study and went further, saying the theory that MLB changed its baseballs after the 2015 all-star break “strains credulity.”
“I understand that people like conspiracy theories,” Manfred said in Passan’s piece. “I wish that I were a) smart enough or b) effective enough to, in the middle of the season, figure out a way to effectuate this sort of change. I would be way better at my job if I were smart enough to pull that off. I understand there is a change that is difficult to explain. The other side of that coin is that to hypothesize that we somehow had a plan that we implemented in the middle of the season that effectuated that sort of change strains credulity.”
Meanwhile, across MLB, the debate rages on. Here is a sampling of thoughts from within the Blue Jays clubhouse:
Manager John Gibbons
“It does seem like the ball is flying. So, who knows? I’m not going to get too caught up in that. I think it’s been brought up over the years at different times. I don’t think anybody’s doing anything intentionally. I don’t know. I don’t want to get caught up in that. I’m not a conspiracy guy.”
Right-handed reliever Joe Smith
“It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t know. When I first came up, I remember when my friends would ask me to describe a big-league baseball, I would be like: ‘Take a cue ball, put baby powder on it, and then go throw.’ And they’d be like, ‘What?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, it just feels like there are no seams.’ Maybe that’s because the balls are different in the minor leagues than in the big leagues. But now I don’t have a problem finding a seam. So, I don’t know.”
“There’s definitely a lot of talk about how the balls are flying. Is it that balls are flying further? Is it the bats? Did they change the bats so that the barrels don’t fly off and endanger fans or people on the field? Now, if a guy gets one on the end, instead of the bat shattering and it’s a pop up to shortstop, the bat doesn’t shatter. It cracks and it’s a pop up to the left-fielder. So, does that make the whole bat stronger? I don’t know.”
Left-handed reliever Aaron Loup
“To me, they feel like normal baseballs. Some days you get balls that are kind of dusty and hard to throw and other days you don’t. But, to me, the seams have been normal for the most part. Sometimes the balls tend to feel a little harder. But, to me, they don’t feel much different.”
“The thing that sticks out to me is how we’re on pace to shatter a home run record by a substantial amount. Which is crazy. Could it be the ball? Sure. Could it be the bats? Sure. Could it be that the average velocity is up now and everybody is throwing harder and trying to punch guys out, and guys are swinging the bat harder at the plate? Sure. There’s a bunch of things that go into it. But I can’t put my finger on one thing and say that’s what it is.”