CLEVELAND — Justin Verlander sparked an inferno of a hot topic Monday when he accused Major League Baseball of altering baseballs in an effort to increase home runs and appease an offense-craving fanbase.
“It’s a f---ing joke,” Verlander said in an interview with ESPN. “Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got (MLB commissioner Rob) 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.”
Verlander, the American League’s starting pitcher in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, has allowed a major league-leading 26 home runs this season. Players are on pace to hit 6,668 home runs this season, which would easily eclipse the record 6,105 hit in 2017.
Washington’s Max Scherzer, who was teammates with Verlander on the Detroit Tigers, was asked Tuesday about the increase in home runs over the past three seasons.
“The home run trend … it’s a complex issue,” the seven-time
All-Star said. “Hitters are adjusting their swings so they can hit these low pitches without mistakes for home runs. They hit off speed, there’s analytics that tell you everything that’s going on so the hitters are very informed. You see pitchers throwing harder than ever, and typically when you throw hard there’s a little bit less location so you’re going to see more pitches in the middle of the plate. That’s all real. That’s human stuff.”
Scherzer then took a deep breath before continuing.
“The elephant in the room is … yes, the ball is different,” he said. “I think that’s something that needs to be addressed. When we’re players on the field, I don’t care what the ball is. I’ll go out there and compete. The hitters on my team get to hit the same ball that I pitch with. So I’m not going to cry about it.
“But at the end of the day the ball is different and that needs to be addressed from MLB’s side and what they plan to do about it and how they foresee the future of the baseball and its role in the home run.”
Scherzer was then asked point blank if he believes MLB purposefully altered baseballs to give hitters an edge.
“That would be making a malicious comment toward MLB. I don’t necessarily want to go down that path, but it’s really hard as players not to wander down that path,” he said. “We really try and take MLB at face value, that they are really trying to do something, I would just like to see MLB do something about it, really take ownership of it. At the end of the day the fans drive this game. If the fans don’t agree with how the game is being played, if they have a problem with the baseball, if the fans have an issue, it’s MLB’s issue. If the fans want that, that’s awesome. I’m here to play.”
During the ESPN interview, Verlander offered insight on why later that night Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might have been able to shatter the single-round and overall home run totals in an effortless performance.
“They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever,” Verlander said. “They know how to do it. It’s not coincidence.”
Manfred, who commissioned a study of the baseballs last year, answered Verlander’s allegations Tuesday.
“(MLB) has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” he said. “There is no desire on part of ownership to increase the number of home runs in the game. To the contrary, they are concerned about how many we have.
“Manipulation of the baseball is a great conspiracy theory. How you manipulate a human-dominated handmade manufacturing process in any consistent way, it’s a smarter human being than I.”
Cleveland four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor offered an alternative explanation Tuesday for the increase in home runs.
“When I was growing up it was all about, ‘Keep the ball down,’” he said. “Now there’s a lot of back-spinning the baseball, throwing high. And then now, the launch angle. You’ve got a launch and then the pitcher wants more backspin on the baseball, there’s going to be more home runs because of that. There’s also more strikeouts because the swing goes up and the ball stays on the same plane, so you have one chance to catch it.”
Lindor doesn’t believe the increase in home runs will be a lingering issue.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “You’ll see in five years, people are going to be like, ‘Oh, my God, the balls are really soft, guys are hitting too many ground balls and what’s wrong with the game? The guys don’t hit home runs.’ It’s going to go back and forth.”