Mitch Moreland was one of three Red Sox who went deep Tuesday night. (Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

Baseballs? Bigger swings? Examining why we're in middle of this historic home run pace

Rob Bradford
June 06, 2017 - 9:33 pm

NEW YORK -- One Red Sox player was telling the story of how a few minor leaguers recently conducted an experiment. The group sawed two baseballs in half, one from the minor leagues, the other from the majors. The results were striking. 

The rubber core of the ball from the minors bounced up like a Super Ball. The big league ball? It dropped like a rock.

The moment confirmed what players who had experienced both baseballs this season already knew -- when it comes to comparing how tightly wound major league baseballs are compared to their minor league counterparts, it's not even close.

"Those first couple of ones, you hit the big league ball and it feels like you're just hitting rockets everywhere. Like it's a racquetball or something. It's crazy," said Red Sox first baseman Sam Travis. "The minor league ball kind of feels like it's a rock. After major league spring training, going back to the minor leagues and hitting them the balls just feel dead. Then when I got called up, I went in the cage and it was like I was hitting pellets. I don't know what it is. It's just amazing. It definitely feels different coming off your bat."

"There's a big difference. It's like night and day. It's not even close. They are way harder here in the major leagues," said Red Sox infielder Deven Marrero. "BP is the biggest difference. That's when you can really tell the ball just jumps off and travels a lot more."

So, what does it matter when it comes to what we're seeing with these major leaguers? Big league baseballs have found themselves in the crosshairs.

Entering Tuesday night Major League Baseball players were hitting more home runs than ever before in its history, averaging 1.23 homers per game. That's ahead of the No. 2 most prolific season, 2000, which finished at 1.17, with last season coming in at No. 3 (1.16).

While the information might be new for some, it's been on the pitchers' radar for some time.

"I've never seen balls fly out like I've seen this year," said one Red Sox hurler.

Major League Baseball also isn't unaware of the narrative, which is the reason why they are armed with a seemingly logical defense. Here is what an MLB spokesman supplied when asked about the subject by WEEI.com:

"As a quality control effort, we routinely conduct in-season and off-season testing of baseballs in conjunction with our consultants at UMass-Lowell to ensure that they meet our specifications. All recent test results have been within the specifications. In addition, we used a third-party consultant to test whether the baseball had any impact on offense in recent years, and he found no evidence of that.

"It's no secret that the balls in the Majors and the Minors have slight differences. The Minor League ball is a good ball, just like the ones used at the collegiate level are good. The Major League balls are made under a different manufacturing process and have a more rigorous quality control process.  Again, balls have to meet our testing specifications (and they have)."

OK, so if it's not the baseballs, then what is it?

There will always be the looming shadow of performance-enhancing drugs, which we now know was the impetus for the last time something like this happened. But even some of the most cynical observers within MLB have a hard time it's a similar cause and effect, mostly because of the more stringent PED testing.

One coach, however, offered a very plausible theory: everybody is being seduced by the idea of hitting homers.

Players are coming up boasting an all-or-nothing approach more than ever before, and many of the teams aren't discouraging the approach. As the coach explained, it's not unlike many of the NBA teams that are basing their whole approach around living and dying with the 3-pointer. There have been better athletes making bigger swings. Want more evidence? 

Home runs aren't the only thing trending on a historic trajectory. So are strikeouts.

For the 10th straight season, strikeouts per nine innings has gone up, with this season sitting at a historic average of 8.27. For the first time ever, MLB could have at least two teams average 10 more more punch-outs per nine, with Houston and Cleveland currently living above the mark, and the Red Sox and Dodgers just south of 10.

So, take your pick. But there's something different, which we've been reminded of every day this baseball season.

"It could be a combination of a lot of things," said Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis. "The balls might be flying better. The ballparks are a little more home run prone. And guys might be swinging a little more aggressively. Maybe it's all of it."

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