Now using baseballs with the same manufacturing process as those in Major League Baseball, the Triple-A levels of the minors are seeing a noticeable uptick in offensive production.
Traditionally, there have been subtle–but still significant–variances between the baseballs used in MLB and Minor League Baseball, with higher seams on the minor league balls being among of the most noticeable differences. That continues to be the case at most levels of the minor leagues, with Triple-A serving as an exception, as the International League and Pacific Coast League are now using baseballs aligned with those at the major-league level.
Prior to this season, the production of Triple-A baseballs by Rawlings was shifted to Costa Rica, where MLB balls are also manufactured. This ensured that Triple-A baseballs would resemble their MLB counterparts, and add another point to player development, particularly for pitchers that now have to adjust to throwing an MLB-style ball earlier in their careers. Initial results indicate that changing the type of baseballs used in Triple-A games has resulted in an advantage for hitters, particularly in the International League, where most offensive numbers are up despite the cold weather associated with most early-season games. More from the Boston Globe:
The new ball has resulted in a shocking offensive surge. During the cold-weather start of the season, offense typically is down to start the year — a fact reinforced by the fact that of the eight full-season minor league levels in Double A and below, seven have seen lower homer rates to this point in 2019 than they had in 2018.
That pattern makes the numbers coming from Triple A – and, in particular, the International League – shocking. Runs in the International League are up 24.8 percent per game, while the rate of homers per plate appearances is up from roughly one every 46 plate appearances in 2018 to one for every 31 plate appearances this year — an increase of almost 50 percent despite the cold spring.
“‘Drastic’ is the word you have to use,” said International League president Randy Mobley. “In my opinion, it’s changed the game, the International League in particular.”
“When you say is it a completely unrecognizable game, to me, it almost is,” said PawSox play-by-play announcer Josh Maurer. “Not to say that it’s a different sport, but it’s not apples-to-apples from a previous year.”
Time will yield a larger sample size that gives a more telling indication of how the change in baseballs ultimately affects the Triple-A level, but the results thus far indicate a strong advantage for hitters.