"Juiced" Ball Adds Wrinkle to Summer Scouting

The buzz around collegiate leagues this summer was that there was clearly something going on with the baseballs. The Cape Cod League served as the most prominent example, as home run numbers exploded in a league typically defined by its pitching dominance. Scouts began looking closer at the issue, and articles began to discuss it. Were baseballs used in 2012 summer collegiate leagues "juiced"?

The answer is yes, the baseballs used in the Cape Cod League, and other summer leagues in 2012 definitely were more lively or "juiced" as oppose to past seasons. I've personally spent many years scouting the Cape and kept many baseballs from previous summers. When comparing them to the baseballs used in 2012, the difference truly is massive.

The impact during game action was obvious. Yes, there was a better crop of power bats in the Cape Cod League than there had been in many years, but when you see almost every player in the league capable of hitting the ball out of the park, you have to consider the idea that something has changed. Home runs in the Cape Cod League were once reserved for only the elite power bats. That changed in 2012. And, there's one statistic that tells you all you need to know. 384 home runs were hit on the Cape in 2012. 317 home runs were hit over the course of 2010 and 2011 combined. That type of difference goes beyond just noticeable; it's downright startling.

Again, the group of hitters in the league did contribute to this phenomenon. There was a slew of elite power hitters on the scene, like Tyler Horan, Eric Jagielo, among others, and because of the new bat regulations in NCAA baseball, hitters are arriving far more prepared for wood bats. But, make no mistake, the baseballs played an enormous role.

Rich Maclone of The Enterprise, who first brought this to light last month, did an outstanding job of investigating the issue and his article quoted noted physicist Alan Nathan from the University of Illinois regarding the most effective way to test the difference between the 2012 and past versions of the ball. That method is determining the COR (coefficient of restitution). Physics is certainly not my field, but my understanding is that COR is essentially a calculation of "bounce" or elasticity. Obviously, there is significantly more detail that could be touched on, but to make a long story short, this is the best way to get to the bottom of our matter in question.

Since the conclusion of the Cape Cod League season last month, I've conducted a number of tests on a 2011 baseball and one of the 2012 baseballs in question. Being that this field is a bit foreign to me, I suspect the tests weren't flawless, but the consistency of the results says a lot. To calculate COR of an object being dropped onto a stationary object (a floor), you divide the height of the bounce by the height you dropped the ball from.

I conducted these tests and made these calculations sporadically over the course of a couple weeks to be sure the results were consistent. My answer? They were very consistent. Before I began to specifically use COR, I simply calculated the height of the bounce when dropped from the same height. The difference in bounce height between the old and the new baseballs was anywhere from 4-7%. The results when I calculated the Coefficient of Restitution fell right in the same vicinity.

After averaging out dozens upon dozens of tests and calculations, I found the difference in COR from a 2011 Cape Cod League baseball to a 2012 baseball to anywhere from be 2.2-5.1. As I understand it, this means that the altered Diamond baseball retains anywhere from 2.2-5.1% more of its kinetic energy than it did the previous season. (Edit: Earlier calculation in article did not take square root portion of COR formula into account)

As I said, my earlier calculations led me to believe that these new baseballs were traveling 4-7% further. That falls in line with the COR calculation. It could be studied much more thoroughly, and I'd like to see someone more qualified than myself study it further. My study is primitive and likely not anywhere near perfect. I am, however, pretty confident in saying that all of the evidence makes me just about positive that the baseballs in the Cape Cod League and other summer leagues went 4-5% further than they've gone in past summers.

If we use 4.5% as our figure, a ball that would normally travel 350 feet would theoretically travel approximately 366 feet with the "juiced" baseball. And, a ball that would normally travel 370 feet would travel 387 feet in 2012. That should paint a pretty decent picture of the difference this new baseball makes. There's a big difference between a 370 foot fly out and a 387 foot home run. Even if we use the lowest figure found in my experiments (2.2%), that's still a difference of about 8 feet extra distance on a 350 foot fly ball.

So, what has caused this difference? The manufacturer, Diamond, has not commented on this issue yet so we're left to examine the ball ourselves for now. For one, the leather exterior of the ball has a noticeably different feel and texture. It's harder, thicker, and less pliable. But, it's what is deep in the interior of the ball that's making the difference. I cut open a 2011 and 2012 version of the baseball to illustrate these differences.



The 2012 ball and "pill" are on the left. Besides the irrelevant color difference, this year's pill is much harder, as others have pointed out. The 2011 version has the feel of a typical rubber bouncing ball.



As we cut into the ball even deeper, you can see the difference in width of the layers. The 2012 ball is on the right in this photo, and the outer layer is much thinner and more densely packed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Most people that spent time around a collegiate summer league in 2012 suspected an issue with the baseballs. We don't have to just wonder anymore.

There was a major problem with these baseballs and it has to be addressed in 2013. One of the most important services these leagues provide, particularly the Cape Cod League, is the ability to easily and accurately showcase the best young talent in the country. When there is an outside factor that's impeding scouts' ability to accurately evaluate these young players, it needs to be rectified for the benefit of everyone involved.

Scouts are more than skilled and intelligent enough to sift through inflated offensive statistics and get a feel for who the most talented hitters are. But, this sure doesn't make their job any easier. And, leagues like the Cape Cod League give us some of our most accurate looks at how these players would perform in a professional environment.

There's also no league in amateur or professional sports that means more to me than the Cape Cod League. I now make my home on the Cape and the league is one the biggest reasons why. As many games as I've been to on Cape Cod, it was obvious to me that something was different in 2012. And, while the home runs may be exciting for some, I'd like to see it return to a time when the long ball was a rare, unexpected treat from a future big league star, and not a regular occurrence that seemingly just about anyone in the league could achieve routinely.

This is certainly not the fault of any of the leagues, however. They believe they were getting the same standard ball as every other season and that simply wasn't the case. Let's hope Diamond Sports can do something to swiftly address this problem and bring the baseballs back to normal standards in 2013. The baseball world is better served when the Cape League is a treacherous gauntlet for hitters rather than a hitter's paradise that makes it more difficult to discover the big league stars of the future.