Detroit — Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, does not agree with Justin Verlander’s view — also the view of a growing number of pitchers and coaches across the game — that the baseball is juiced.
“There is nothing different about the baseball at all,” Manfred said during a press briefing before the Tigers-Yankees game Tuesday night. “As a matter of fact, to the extent that there are little ups and downs (variances in the baseballs) year to year, the ups and downs suggest there should be fewer home runs.”
Verlander has been a loud advocate of the theory that the balls have been altered since the All-Star break in 2015. He believes they are wound tighter and the seams are flatter. His theory passes the eye test, as well. Baseball is on pace to have more than 6,000 home runs this season for the first time in history. Home runs are up 46 percent over last year.
“We are paying a lot of attention to it, we really are,” Manfred said. “Our game over its history has had a way of ebbing and flowing. We will watch it very carefully to see if this is going to be one those things that comes and goes.”
Manfred acknowledged that the barrage of home runs, coupled with a higher tolerance for strikeouts, is a double-edged sword.
“I don’t have a view that more home runs are better than less home runs,” he said. “I do know two things: From our fan research, the fans like home runs and that’s a good thing. I also know the time between balls in play is at an all-time high, and that is not a good thing in terms of the amount of action that’s happening on the field.”
But as far as blaming the ball — ongoing independent studies have been commissioned by the league, and studies have been conducted by Rawlings, the company that manufactures the baseballs — Manfred does not buy it.
“A pitcher throws a pitch that results in a home run being hit — there is nothing scientific about that pitcher’s judgment that the ball was responsible for it,” he said. “There are a variety of things involved and that pitcher’s perspective may not be completely objective.
“I don’t feel the need to debate what a particular pitcher or player is saying about the baseball. The important thing is the science. And the testing we’re doing assures us the baseballs are within specifications.”
Manfred touched on multiple subjects during the course a 23-minute session, including the one-day white armband protest by the umpires that was initiated by disparaging comments made by Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler about umpire Angel Hernandez last week.
“I was a little surprised by the umpires’ protest,” he said. “I want to be clear that protest was a clear violation of their collective bargaining agreement. We let them know it was a violation of their collective bargaining agreement and that we intended to enforce our rights under that agreement.”
Fortunately, Manfred said, the situation was quickly diffused after he agreed to meet with the umpires group and hear their grievances. That meeting has not yet taken place. But Manfred said he didn’t agree with the premise of the umpires’ beef — that verbal attacks on umpires were happening with unprecedented frequency.
“I really don’t agree with that,” he said. “I think when you have competitive people, particularly after a game, people say things that may merit discipline from the commissioner’s office.
“That has always happened in the game. I don’t think that it’s any different now than in the past.”
He was also asked if his office has heard more complaints from players and managers regarding sign-stealing this season. With the advances in video technology, teams are able to record the signs put down by opposing catchers on nearly every pitch.
“I’ve had direct complaints from players about sign-stealing in the context of discussion of pace of play,” he said. “Players have made the point that the potential for sign-stealing is something that slows the game down when runners are on base.”
This is another point Verlander has made throughout the season. The game comes to a halt when a runner gets to second base because signs are changed on almost every pitch, which requires more mound visits and step-offs.
“We have rules in place,” Manfred said. “Generally, the notion of sign-stealing, people regard it as a form of behavior we should not tolerate. And certainly not if there is, for example, electronic devices involved. We have rules that regulate the use of those devices.”
In terms of replay, Manfred said he feels the system, while still evolving, is better this year than it was last year. Especially, he said, in terms it being less obtrusive, because managers are limited to 30 seconds to ask for a review, and the soft, two-minute cap on the length of the replay review itself.
As for using computers to call balls and strikes, he said the technology isn’t quite there yet.
“As a technological matter, I believe we will get to the point where balls and strikes will be called in real time by a machine. But there is a separate question as to whether you want to take the human element of a home plate umpire out of the game.
“When the technology gets there, I’m sure the owners will have a conversation about whether they want to make that additional move to take the human element out of the game.”
As part of his Detroit visit, he toured Little Caesar’s Arena and spoke highly of all the new development the Ilitch family has undertaken in the area. He was asked if he thought President and CEO Chris Ilitch was committed long-term to maintaining ownership of the Tigers.
“I think Chris Ilitch is going to be a member of our little fraternity for a long time.”