Once again, Major League Baseball's season began with a power surge, and exasperated pitchers want commissioner Rob Manfred to admit that the baseballs are juiced.
The beginning of the 2019 season has seen a rise in home runs - even for an era increasingly defined by the long ball. Through the opening month, players have combined to hit 1,144 home runs in 2019, breaking the previous record of 912 set last year.
(Statistics courtesy: FanGraphs, starting in 2002)
The 2017 campaign set the all-time record for home runs hit in a single season, as players combined for 6,105 dingers. That surpassed the previous record of 5,693 set in 2000. Last year, the league total dropped to 5,610 - still the third-highest total in MLB history.
"I hate to dive too deep into conspiracy theories, but it's pretty wild what's happening," New York Yankees lefty J.A. Happ told Nightengale. "... Nothing surprises you anymore. It used to be that you kind of knew for sure when a guy got you, and now you don't know. You see hitters get frustrated, put their head down, and think they missed it, but the ball still goes out."
The juiced ball theory gained notoriety during the 2017 season, with research from Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman cataloging many altered aspects of the ball including lower seams, a slightly smaller circumference, and a higher coefficient of restitution (or more bounciness).
Last May, a committee formed by Manfred acknowledged that the league's increase in homers was due to "a change in the aerodynamic properties" of the ball, per Dave Sheinen of The Washington Post. However, the committee stated that it couldn't find any changes to the ball's size, weight, seam height, or coefficient of restitution that would have caused the home run surge.
"If they would come out and were straightforward, just, acknowledge what they've done, it would be easier to accept," Yankees reliever Zack Britton said. "... Hey, I get it. You want to bring in a new generation of fans, that’s the goal. We're in the entertainment business. It's something to give to the fans to draw them back, and as pitchers, we've got to adapt.
"But it would make everybody's job a lot easier if they would just come out and say, 'Hey, we decided to do this to create more offense.'"
2019 is the first season that MLB baseballs are being used in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and International League. Their home-run rates have spiked by 47.1 percent from last season, according to Nightengale.