Baccellieri: Just how different is the baseball in the launch angle era?

From Emma Baccelieri at Sports Illustrated on May 29, 2018, with mention of SABR member Alan Nathan:

During World War I, the government found itself facing an unusual predicament when it came to baseball—assuredly far down the list of government predicaments at the time, but still one all the same. The War Department wanted to provide baseballs for the troops, but the quality of available options varied greatly at the time, and they wanted to make sure that soldiers received the best offerings. This was before the National League and American League agreed on a standardized baseball (that didn’t come until 1934) and so there was no single official major league ball to go with. The solution? The War Department asked the National Bureau of Standards to test baseballs from six different factories. The balls were dropped from various heights to determine their bounciness; their cores were dissected; their stitches were pulled. Finally, the bureau decided that they had enough information to mark the balls as first-, second- or third-class, and the first-class ones were “shipped in enormous quantity overseas,” all according to a 1920 article on the subject from Scientific American.

This is the first documented example of large-scale efficiency testing on baseballs—an initiative sparked not by Major League Baseball, but by the federal government. That independent testing started a tradition that continues through to present day. Just last week, MLB released the results of an external study commissioned to examine the ball as part of a larger analysis of home run rates. After a record number of dingers last year—part of a league-wide power increase that began in the second half of the 2015 season and hasn’t slowed since—commissioner Rob Manfred appointed a group of engineering, physics and mathematics professors from across the country to determine what, exactly, was going on.  

The researchers determined that all these home runs aren’t the result of the weather, or the pitchers, or the idea of a launch-angle revolution. Instead, they concluded that the culprit here is the baseball—but they couldn’t determine just why or how that was the case.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: May 29, 2018. Last Updated: May 29, 2018.