The Juiced Ball and You

The Brewers are fun! And one of the main reasons they’re fun is all of the massive dingers they hit. Keon Broxton has been Aaron Judge-lite over the past several days, and Travis Shaw has been routinely destroying baseballs. As of this writing the Brewers have clubbed 98 home runs, tied for 5th in all of baseball, but while we all love massive dingers, I would like  to briefly discuss the other kind.

Just Enough
ESPN tracks home runs in 3 categories: No Doubters, Plenty of Distance, and Just Enough. They also have a qualifier, “Lucky,” that indicates a home run would not have occurred on a calm, cool, San Diego-esque day. “Lucky” is more focused on weather effects, and they have catalogued a few home runs that actually had “plenty” of distance but were still considered lucky. For my purposes, we are concerned only with home runs that barely cleared the fence, wind-assisted or not.

The Brewers recently won consecutive games on late home runs by Eric Thames, and in both instances, the ball actually hit the top of the wall and bounced over. In their walk-off victory over the Padres on June 16th, Thames hit an absolute moonshot that took forever to leave the yard, and if it had not, it would likely have resulted in an extremely loud out as the left and center fielders had plenty of time to settle underneath it. A few days later Travis Shaw hit yet another wall scraper that just barely cleared the fence in a losing effort. The Brewers have 30 home runs this year that are categorized as “Just Enough” by the ESPN Home Run Tracker.

This is interesting because according to new research conducted  by Micthel Lichtman and Baseball Prospectus alum Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer, the ball is juiced.

The current baseball being used has a few subtle differences to its core and seam height, and as a result it travels about 7 feet further than your average fly ball in the first half of 2016. It’s unlikely that either of Eric Thames recent game-winning home runs would have gotten out if the old ball had been in play.

The Net Effect
Who benefits from this? Is there any reason to think the Brewers are especially helped by the juiced ball? On the one hand, the ball, which is within the standards set by Major League Baseball, is the same for everyone, and so for every “new” home run the Brewers have added, they’ve probably given one up as well. On the other hand, the Brewers also employ a disproportionate amount of medium-to-good power hitters. They currently employ 9 players slugging over .400, and any mistake to a Brewer hitter is liable to get blasted out of the park. While no one has ever doubted Ryan Braun’s power profile, and Eric Thames is essentially a bodybuilder, players like Domingo Santana and Hernan Perez have the potential to benefit immensely from anything that turns warning track power into home run power, and even Thames…

…has benefitted. Thames has 20 home runs on the season, and according to ESPN’s home run tracker, six have been “just enough” home runs, clearing the fence by a small margin. Not all of his “just enoughs” would necessarily have required the juiced ball to get out…

But generally speaking, that number is fairly accurate.  The “just enough” categorization isn’t perfect, but the Brewer benefitted greatly from his two game winners off the top of the wall. They’ve had a bit of a knack of top-of-the-wall shots…

Hernan Perez has four “just enough” shots this season, but only this one needed a review to actually make sure it got out. One of his squeakers was a 411 foot shot to dead center, but it still just barely did make it, and none of his four barely-bombs had more than 7 feet to play with.

Perhaps no one has benefitted more than Domingo Santana, who has five “just enough” bombs out of his 11 home runs entering play Wednesday night. Santana is a defensive liability who depends on his bat to remain valuable, and Santana with 11 home runs is a much more attractive proposition than Santana with 6.

By my unofficial count, the Brewers have played in five games where a squeaker made up the winning margin in the game. For instance, this Domingo-bomb, which was close to our 7-foot juiced ball margin, tied things up en route to a 4-3 Brewer win.

And Domingo schtoink-bombs made up the entire Brewer offense in this 4-3 win against the Braves.

But it’s not always so simple, and as I mentioned before, everyone is playing with the same ball. The Brewers have hit 30 “just enough” home runs out of 105 total, but they are hardly the biggest beneficiary of the juiced ball. 37 of the Reds’ 101 home runs have been of the “just enough” variety with Scott Schebler (8), Joey Votto (8) and Adam Duvall (7) leading the way. Both the Pirates (30) and Cubs (29) are in the same range, with only the Cardinals (22) trailing.

Moreover, the Brewers have seen opponents hit 24 “just enough” home runs against them, and they have often been devastating. I know every Brewer fan is sick of Hunter Renfroe, and with good reason. This walk-off may not have been a walk-off last year.

Both Schebler…

…and Mark Reynolds

…have gotten the Brewers twice. The Brewers have suffered 7 “just enough” home runs in scenarios where it either tied the game or put the opposing team ahead.

The Juiced Ball Doesn’t Help Anyone
The Brewers are, as I write this, surprise division leaders, and while there is some luck buried in that record, the juiced ball has little if anything to do with it. While visions of Thames’ recent walk-offs are still fresh in everyone’s mind, the team has suffered from the “just enough” shot more than they’ve been helped by it. While they’ve hit 30 total per ESPN, and have only endured 24, but seven of those 24 have been high leverage. I’m sure there are various players who are helped by a juiced ball more than everyone else, but so far this season, at least for Milwaukee, the effects are well-distributed. And fun!

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