Blitzer: The ephemeral perfection of the immaculate inning

From Jonathan Blizter at The New Yorker on August 13, 2017, with mention of SABR member John Thorn:

In the major leagues this season, batters have been hitting the ball so hard, and so far, that pitchers are suggesting foul play. “There’s just something different about the baseballs,” one veteran reliever complained earlier this summer. “I don’t have anything to quantify it, but the balls just don’t feel the same.” It’s been an unprecedented year for home runs: hitters are on pace to shatter the previous single-season record for them (5,693), which was set in 2000, at the height of the steroid era, when sluggers were making widespread and illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. In June, players hit more home runs than in any previous month in the game’s history (1,101), sometimes in gaudy fashion, as when seven different players hit grand slams in a single day (another record).

Some pitchers claim the balls are being wound differently, making them soar farther off the bat; others say the seams are depressed, and that they’re getting less movement on their pitches as a result. Thirty years ago, the league also saw a sudden increase in home runs; then, too, players and coaches openly speculated about whether a so-called rabbit ball was responsible. (The power surge subsided by the following season, only adding to the mystery.) As in the past, the league denies anything is awry, but a few recent studies, which analyze the rise in the exit velocity of batted balls, may show otherwise.

Under the circumstances, it was easy to miss another major-league record being set this week. Granted, it was somewhat obscure. It concerned one of baseball’s most pleasurable and least appreciated feats: the immaculate inning.

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Originally published: August 14, 2017. Last Updated: August 14, 2017.