‘Juiced’ Baseball Could Be Reason Behind CCBL’s Inflated Offense
By: Rich Maclone
Jake Rodriguez, of the Falmouth Commodores, returned to the Cape Cod Baseball League a little late this season and had been away from the game for a few weeks. The 2011 All-Star infielder, who is now his team’s starting catcher, thought it would take him a few days to get back into the groove of things. It really didn’t.
“The first day I was here, I hit a home run. I wasn’t expecting that, and we had two or three home runs that game. Every day after that, it seemed like the balls were flying out. You can tell that there’s a difference.”
Cape Cod Baseball League Commissioner Paul Galop has been with the league for over 30 years now, in a variety of capacities, and he too knows that things have gotten a little bit wacky when it comes to offense. The good-natured official has seen some of the best players college baseball has to offer do some amazing things on the diamonds up and down the peninsula from Orleans to Bourne. This year he saw something he’d never seen before, and it made him a believer.
“I was at Harwich, and I saw a ball hit out to center field that cleared the fence and was halfway up in the trees. I’ve been around a long time, and I’d never seen a ball go out there before,” Galop said. “I’ve been with the league for a long time, since 1980, and I’ve seen some balls that didn’t go that far with aluminum bats...obviously something’s going on.”
Falmouth Commodores starting pitcher John Simms contrasted 2011 with 2012, and one thing really stands out for him. “A guy hit a ball off me last year in the playoffs, and he really squared it up, and we ran it down on the track. This year there’s balls that I look at it and go, ‘no way,’ and it gets out of here.”
Offensive statistics in the Cape Cod Baseball League have increased dramatically in 2012. Home runs in the league have increased in a stunning manner, with the teams combining for 140 percent more homers this summer. In 2011 Cape Cod Baseball League batters totaled 159 home runs for the season; the year before that the number sat at 158. This year, with the regular season (each team plays 44 games) having concluded on Tuesday, CCBL hitters jacked 382 balls over the fences of the 10 league ballparks, with the Harwich Mariners setting a new, high-water mark for bombs in a season, smashing 64. The former record, 59 in a season by the 1981 Orleans Cardinals, was set during the league’s aluminum bat period which was from 1974 to 1984. Additionally, Wareham’s Tyler Horan tied the CCBL record for homers in a season with a wood bat and is second on the all-time, single-season homer list, having hit 16 homers. That tied him with Dave Staton (Brewster, 1988) as the only player to ever hit that many in a single season using a wood bat. Cory Snyder (Harwich, 1983) set the league’s all-time, single-season record, using an aluminum bat to hit 22.
I’ve been with the league for a long time, since 1980, and I’ve seen some balls that didn’t go that far with aluminum bats...obviously something’s going on.
Commissioner Paul Galop
Every team in the Cape League hammered more homers in 2012 than they had the year before, and just one of the teams, Chatham, did not have a significant increase. The Anglers had a league-most 24 in 2011 and hit just 26 this year which was the fewest hit by any team in the league. Every other team in the CCBL connected for no fewer than 32 home runs and had at least 11 more than the year before. Wareham had the most dramatic increase of all the teams, going from just six in 2011 to 51 in 2012.
It’s not just home runs that have increased. The overall batting average for the CCBL rose from .247 a year ago to .260 this season. Teams saw their average hits per game rise from 7.9 to 8.8. There were 388 more base hits collected this season, rising from 3,497 in 2011 to 3,885. Logically, there were a lot more runs scored this season as well, up from 1,704 to 2,249.
The epidemic of offense hasn’t just been felt on Cape Cod. Offensive numbers are up dramatically across the country in other National Alliance of College Summer Baseball leagues. The Florida League saw their homers increase from 57 to 158. The Great Lakes League went from 99 homers in 2011 to 276. In the New York Collegiate Baseball League, the total exploded from 117 to 315. And in the Valley League, homers rose from 287 to 469.
All members of the NACSB order their baseballs from the same company. The NACSB has an exclusive baseball-provider agreement with Diamond Sports of Santa Ana, California. Galop explained that each spring he receives requests for balls from each of his 10 general managers, on average about 120 to 150 dozen Diamond D1-Pros per team, and then places a bulk order to Diamond which manufactures the balls in China. Diamond in turn orders the balls from their plant and then ships them out to the leagues en masse.
The Enterprise made five attempts to contact Diamond Sports over the last week for an official statement on the situation, but the company did not reply.
Explaining The Explosion Of The Long Ball
The onslaught of offense began from the start of the CCBL season and never waned. Longtime Cape League insiders could not shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. Some said that the pitching wasn’t as good as last year. Others said that the NCAA’s switch to BBCOR bats, which are less forgiving than the previous aluminum bats, had the hitters more prepared for wood. It seemed that there were plenty of theories as to why the ball was flying but no hard answers.
The most popular theory, though, is that the ball is juiced, altered from previous seasons in a way that produces more velocity and lift off the bat at impact.
Jim Martin, the General Manager of the West Division regular-season-champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, and some of his baseball people decided that the answer was beneath the leather, so they went about dissecting a baseball from the 2011 season and one from the 2012 season in order to compare them. What they found was interesting.
“It came up because it seemed like some of the ground balls were getting out of the infield really quickly. It wasn’t just the home runs, but the ball just seemed like it was moving faster through the infield, and Harwich hit so many home runs so quickly, we had our own curiosity and we determined that the balls were different,” Martin said. “The core is definitely different. With the 2011 baseball, the core last year had a very soft feel to it. This year, the piece of rubber, you can barely move it; it’s made of a harder substance,” Martin said.
Bruce Murphy, the GM of the Cotuit Kettleers, the 2012 West Division regular season champs, said that they did a similar thing in Cotuit and came up with an identical finding. “It’s a different baseball. It’s a harder-core baseball that Diamond provided...They never informed us at all (that the ball would be different).”
The Enterprise also cut a ball from each season in half this week and found the same thing. The core of the ball, which is called “the pill” by baseball manufacturers, in the 2011 baseball was made of a softer plastic that was more pliable. The Enterprise, which had the assistance of Bob Richards at Richards Designs machine shop, also cut the cores of the baseballs in half.
When pinched, the edges of the 2011 baseballs are easily moved. With the 2012 baseballs, the plastic is much harder. It was also found that the diameter of the pills was slightly different. The diameter of last year’s core was 1.31 inches while the newer model was 1.375 inches. Additionally, the interior of the pills differed. With the older model, the outer part of the pill consisted of an outer shell made of soft, flexible rubber, with an interior that was separated and made of a similar black plastic substance. Inside of that is a cork ball. With the newer ball, the outer shell and the inner shell are both very tough, inflexible plastics, which do not appear to have any separation between the layers other than color (the outer is orange, the inner black). It too is filled with cork, which seems nearly identical to the cork of the 2011 model.
Galop said that the difference in size and shape is most likely the reason that so many balls are traveling over fences. “That would create a bigger hitting surface for any batter, so it stands to reason that the balls would go farther,” he said.
Further Evaluation Needed
Alan Nathan, a noted physicist and professor emeritus from the University of Illinois, specializes in the science of baseball and said that the jump in offensive statistics in the Cape Cod Baseball League is certainly worth further evaluation.
Nathan said that as a scientist he is skeptical about juiced baseball theories without scientific data to back up the hypothesis. “It’s certainly not unreasonable (that the ball could be juiced), but it hasn’t been proven. I’m skeptical because there’s a right way to (test) it...you need to determine the coefficient of restitution (COR).”
Nathan explained that even a small change in the ball’s COR could dramatically change offensive output. “Changing the COR from .5 to .55 could account for the statistics,” he said.
The retired professor, who was a part of the committee that spearheaded the NCAA’s switch to BBCOR bats a year ago, said that the burgeoning batting numbers are worth investigation. “That’s a pretty big jump (on Cape Cod) and way outside what I’d expect out of normal statistical fluctuation,” he continued. “It would not surprise me at all if the ball was juiced. If I was a Major League team I’d want to know...they need to know that information.”
One MLB franchise that is extremely interested in whether or not the CCBL’s number are reliable or not is the Boston Red Sox. Nathan said that a member of the Red Sox front office contacted him recently about conducting tests on the Cape League’s baseballs to help assist with their scouting reports.
“They want to know, when they scout someone, if he’s really a home run hitter,” Nathan said.
Commissioner Galop said that he has heard from several Major League Baseball scouts that they cannot rely on this year’s numbers as well as years past.
“I’ve heard a lot from scouts that the baseballs are giving false statistics,” Galop said.
Several pitchers in the Cape Cod Baseball League also feel that Diamond made changes to the exterior of the ball. Simms, who has pitched for the Commodores of Falmouth for the past two seasons, believes that the newer models have a much slicker feel than the ones he used last summer. “I think the main issue is the quality of the balls...the leather, it’s more like a pleather, it feels like a plastic,” Simms said.
“They probably go farther; it’s definitely a different ball,” Simms continued. “We had a game in Hyannis where they ran out of balls so they brought out some of last year’s balls, and our hitters were coming back to the bench saying ‘I thought I squared that one up; I thought I got all of it,’ and it was coming up short.”
Simms’ teammate in Falmouth, Rodriguez, is the Commodores starting catcher and also a player who served during both seasons. He was a late arrival to the team, missing the first few weeks, and it didn’t take him long to notice that something had changed.
I’ve heard a lot from scouts that the baseballs are giving false statistics.
“They definitely go a lot farther. They definitely fly better than the balls we used in college. I feel like I’m hitting it better here with a wood bat than I was with a metal bat in college,” Rodriguez said.
Another two-year Commodores pitcher, Sean Hagan, chimed in with a similar view.
“Last year in batting practice, there’d only be a couple of home runs, but now we’re hitting 15 or 20 home runs each batting practice,” he said. “I don’t think the kids have gotten that much bigger or stronger. I know last year we had a pretty power-packed team, too, but the ball wasn’t flying like this.”
With evidence becoming more than hearsay and speculation, Galop said that the CCBL contacted Diamond Sports with their findings. The commissioner said that the company explained to him that the baseballs are manufactured overseas in China and that they planned on investigating the situation with “formalized testing.” As of early this week, Diamond had not yet returned any findings on the situation, but Galop said that he expects that the company will get to the bottom of the situation and rectify the situation going forward.
Diamond Sports Not To Blame
Galop said that he does not believe that Diamond is at fault and that more than anything the league would like to receive an explanation as to what happened in the manufacturing process. He said that the league plans to continue to use the product going forward and that Diamond baseballs, the same ones used during the regular season, will be in play during the postseason games.
“The people at Diamond are our friends. We’re not looking to blame anyone; we’re just looking for an explanation,” the Commissioner said. “The only positive thing is that any given night, both teams are using the same baseballs. So, there’s not an issue with fairness.”
Martin agreed that the statistics may be skewed, but, other than that, everything is on the up and up and the games have certainly been exciting. “It makes it fun for the fans,” Martin said. “As long as everyone’s using them, then it’s fair.”
Perhaps the people with the biggest gripe are the pitchers who have had to throw the balls this summer. One positive for the pitchers, though, is that they have enjoyed more strike-outs than in years past. With the balls taking off for orbit so regularly, hitters are certainly swinging for the fences like never before. Earned run averages and walks rose this year as well, but so did strike-outs, quite a bit. Cape Leaguers fanned only 3,196 times a year ago. This year, that number rose to 4,117.
Hitters, like Wareham’s Daniel Palka, think maybe they deserve some of the credit for all of the long balls. Palka, who hit just one homer a year ago but knocked 11 out this season, doesn’t think it’s the baseball at all. “I don’t know...they don’t feel different, they feel the same as last year’s balls...”
Palka’s comments came moments after the slugger hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning earlier this week. "They’re both Diamond balls; I don’t know.”
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