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Home Run Happy: Verlander Says The Ball’s To Blame – And He’s Not Pleased

Justin Verlander

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Justin Verlander will be in the Hall of Fame one day because he’s one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. You take it for granted that he completely understands the physics, what’s expected from a baseball once he sends it hurtling to the plate.

And so Verlander is quite aware of what’s happened in the Major Leagues this season. He knows homeruns are flying at a record pace and that June’s tally was most in any month in the history of the game and July’s might just  break that.

Truth is, the pitchers haven’t just started sucking at a historic rate, although the Baltimore Orioles staff might be an exception. And we assume hitters aren’t putting  careers at risk by dabbling in anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake.

So what’s the reason for the all the homers? Dude, it’s the ball.

Before taking the mound as the American League’s starter Tuesday in the All-Star Game in Cleveland, Verlander confirmed what most of us are thinking. The pitchers believe someone has doctored with the baseballs and that MLB is cool with it.

In fact, Verlander laid it out quite plainly when he said baseballs were “a f—–g joke” and that he’s 100 percent sure someone is messing with them and the game.

Verlander has already allowed 26 homers this season, the most of any MLB pitcher. That’s also a joke. But its just a small percentage of the inconceivable 3,691 that have been launched prior to the All-Star break.

Listen to this: MLB hitters are on pace to slug 6,668 homers this season. And that would crush the current single-season record (6,105) that was set in 2017.

Like the strikeout, which for the first time in history exceeded the number of hits in MLB last season, the proliferation of homeruns has caught everyone’s attention. And it’s easy to understand why people running the game might love the explosion of pop.

Did you see the Home Run Derby on Monday night? It was fabulous, Joc Pederson, Vlad Guerrero, Jr., and eventually winner Pete Alonso smashing scoreboard bulbs with a record barrage of 312 blasts.

According to MLB, home runs are up nearly 60 percent since 2014. And because of it, Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed to finance a study designed to figure out why the ball was traveling so much farther and at such a greater speed and launch angle.

Big news: MLB discovered there was a marked difference in the performance of the baseball but it couldn’t tell us why, even though they now own Rawlings, the company that supplies the game with his balls.

“Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke,” said Verlander. “They own Rawlings, and you’ve got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f—ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”

You got to love Justin Verlander. He’s smart enough to marry Kate Upton and tell it like it is about the game he plays.

“They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever,” said Verlander. “They know how to do it. It’s not coincidence. I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced.”

Manfred admitted to ESPN on Monday that something different is going on.

Vlad Guerrero

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

“We think what’s been going on this year is attributable to the baseball,” sai Manfred. “Our scientists that have been now studying the baseball more regularly have told us that this year the baseball has a little less drag. It doesn’t need to change very much in order to produce meaningful change in terms of the way the game is played on the field. We are trying to understand exactly why that happened and build out a manufacturing process that gives us a little more control over what’s going on. But you have to remember that our baseball is a handmade product and there’s gonna be variation year to year.”

Again, as Verlander said, its MLB’s company that is making the baseballs. If MLB wasn’t happy with the product, if homeruns and ERAs were down to historic lows, you can bet they would do something about it. MLB knows exactly what’s going on and its very happy about it.

“I hate the way I feel out there,” Verlander told ESPN. “No matter who’s the batter, I feel like I’m constantly walking a tightrope, because any batter can go opposite field. Any batter can leave with any pitch that’s anywhere in the zone. You can’t miss barrels anymore. You have to miss bats. There’s been multiple times this year where five years ago I’d probably just throw a fastball away. I can’t do that. Because you’re the 8-, 9-hole hitter and you still can hit an opposite-field homer.”

“I don’t know if it’s bad or good for the game. That’s for them to decide. I don’t think it’s great – that the true outcomes of strikeouts, homers and walks is best for the game. That’s for somebody else to decide. I talk about time a lot – how do you stack up in history? If you’re going to change something so dramatically, I think you need to make people aware.”

In the Home Run Derby, Guerrero, just 20 years old, whose been in the Majors for not even three months and has hit only eight homers this season, broke the single-round record by hitting 29 homers in each of the first two rounds. He hit it 22 in the Finals, only to be beaten by Alonso.

Imagine, he finished second in the event despite hitting 91 dingers in the competition which broke Giancarlo Stanton’s event mark by 30. Only six players in Derby history had hit 40 home runs in an entire event.

Remember something else: MLB decided for the first time this season to reward the winner of the Derby with $1 million. They knew that would add to the spectacle and they guaranteed it played out the way it hoped by controlling the ultimate controlable.

There were 312 homers hit in the Derby, smashing the previous record of 221. Coincidence? Verlander doesn’t think so.

 

 

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