During the regular season, Major League Baseball faced accustations that the balls were juiced -- hence the league-wide home-run spike.
Now, with the World Series nearing its conclusion, MLB is facing a different controversy concerning the ball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has a lengthy report in which multiple players and coaches on the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros claim the baseballs being used are slicker than the ones used during the regular season -- and that the difference is making it difficult to throw a quality slider:
Pitchers and coaches from both the Dodgers and Astros complained Saturday night about the World Series baseballs—and this time the controversy is not just about liveliness. They say there is a new problem: the baseballs used in the World Series are slicker than the ones used in the regular season because of a difference in the grain of the leather. The slicker World Series balls particularly make it hard to throw a good slider, they claim.
In addition to the countless on-the-record quotes, Verducci also points out some compelling statistics. Like how Justin Verlander recorded the fewest swings-and-misses on his slider all season in his Game 2 start. Or how Yu Darvish failed to coerce a whiff on his slider for the first time all year in Game 3. Or how Kenley Jansen gave up a homer on his slider for the first time this season. And so on.
MLB, for its part, is pinning the difference on the pregame mud-rubbing routine -- and has claimed the only difference between the balls is the switch from blue ink to gold ink.
One last noteworthy statistic from Verducci: This World Series has seen players average a homer every 17.5 at-bats. During the regular season, that rate was every 27.1 at-bats. Something seems awry -- and the players and coaches seem to think they know the answer.