Over the last two seasons, MLB has seen home run totals soar to previously unthinkable heights. In 2019 the Yankees and Twins crossed the 300 home run threshold, obliterating the high water mark of 267 dingers set by the Yankees the season prior. This surge in home runs led many to speculate that MLB had juiced the baseball to ostensibly create a more exciting on-field product for the fans. Indeed, following that 2019 season, a study commissioned by MLB found that year’s baseballs to incur less drag while airborne due to inconsistencies in seam height.
There is growing consensus that MLB used a similar juiced baseball in 2020, a year which produced the second-highest HR/PA rate in MLB history after 2019. In response, MLB announced they would deaden the baseballs for the 2021 season by changing the construction of the baseball. Rawlings (MLB’s official baseball supplier) will loosen three of the wool windings in the interior of the baseball to reduce the ball’s coefficient of restitution (bounciness of the baseball) by 0.01 or 0.02, resulting in a loss of one to two feet of distance on balls hit over 375 feet.
But do not panic Yankees fans, for this is in fact a blessing in disguise. The Yankees, more so than any other club, are constructed in such a way as to be resilient to these changes. While for some teams this decrease in air distance could mean the difference between a home run and a catch on the warning track, for the Yankees it is more like the difference between a homer hit into the fifth row as opposed to the sixth.
Since 2018, the Yankees ranked second in average exit velocity (89.6 mph), third in barrel rate (8.4 percent), and second in hard hit rate (39.4 percent) according to FanGraphs. It does not matter whether batters are facing off against the rabbit ball or not, the Yankees hitters are the premier punishers of the baseball.
It is no secret that the Yankees have coveted, accumulated, or produced an array of high velocity bats in recent years. Since 2018, the Yankees have stockpiled six of the top 75 hardest hitters of the baseball in MLB by average exit velocity in Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, and Luke Voit. In that same timeframe, Stanton, Sánchez, and Judge are one-two-three in the league in maximum exit velocity while Judge places third, Sánchez fourth, and Stanton sixth in barrel rate.
There is also the fact that the Yankees do not get cheated when they go yard. Their home runs typically are not of the wall-scraping variety — when a Yankee hits a home run, it stays gone. Statcast recently added an expected home run metric. Within this, they record homers that are “doubters” (home runs in seven or fewer stadiums) and “no-doubters” (taters in all 30 parks). Just as I expected, the Yankees boast the lowest “doubter HR” rate during the juiced ball timeline (2019-20).
Don’t just take my word for it, ask these fine fellows:
Aside from boasting a roster full of sluggers who can mash the baseball, juiced or not, the Yankees have another factor working in their favor: the friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium is traditionally known as a hitter-friendly park, with the short porch in right and only 318 feet down the left field line. Indeed, it rated as the third-friendliest park for batters in 2020, with a 1.565 park home run factor.
How much one should trust MLB’s plans with the baseball is not for me to say. After all, MLB repeatedly refused to acknowledge that the baseballs in 2019 were different... until they eventually did. Additionally, astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills, Ph.D. conducted an independent study that showed a significant alteration in the baseball’s construction that would allow them to fly farther — and that such changes could only have been deliberate. Regardless, Yankees fans can rest easy with the news that the baseball could be de-juiced for this season, knowing that their team is the best positioned to withstand such changes.