Kent State study may explain record MLB home runs

KENT, Ohio-- With the 2018 Major League Baseball season just around the corner, fans will be watching to see if players can match a record-setting home run season from 2017.

MLB sluggers hit 6,105 home runs during the 2017 season. That eclipses the previous record of 5,610 set just the year before and nearly 2,000 more than the 4,909 homeruns hit in 2014.

The increase has been so dramatic that some have questioned if the players had any help.

At the request of writers for ESPN's Five-Thirty-Eight, four balls that were used by Major League Baseball before the 2015 season and four balls that were used since the 2015 season were examined at the Keck School of Medicine in California.

A CT scan in California showed the density of the core, or the "pill," of the balls that was consistent among those used after 2015 and was different than the balls used before 2015.

The cores of the balls were then sent to Kent State University, where researchers subjected them to laboratory tests to determine if there was a difference in the chemical composition of the material in those cores.

Shavings of the pink rubber cover were cooked during a blind study in the laboratory of Dr. Soumitra Basu to analyze their composition. What they found was that there is a difference in the composition, the density and in how porous the material was in the pink rubber cover over the core.

"It was roughly about half as dense as it was in the past," said Nate Beals, who helped conduct the study. "There is a pretty distinct difference and it was also very reproduceable, which was very interesting."

The researchers also did a high magnification study of the rubber cover of the core and found the material that covered the core of the older balls was less porous than the rubber cover of the cores of the newer balls.

"Decreases in mass can of the baseball can increase the ball velocity off the bat, which can potentially lead to farther distances," Beals said.

What was most interesting to researchers is the results of the balls that were used since 2015 were very consistent, as was the results of the balls used before 2015. but both groups of balls were different from one another.

"This is to our knowledge for the first time really analyzes the composition of the baseball, the chemical composition of the baseball," Dr. Basu said.

"So when we take the density, the porosity, the mass and the polymer content all of this together, then that might translate into several feet of distance advantage," said Dr. Basu.

Michael Teevan, vice president of communications in the office of Major League Baseball's Commissioner, issued a statement late Thursday in response to questions from FOX 8 saying:

"In late February, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the following at a press conference, and this statement continues to reflect where we currently stand: “The baseballs are a really important topic. We have actually had a postseason-long project, involving independent experts, ongoing. That project is not quite complete. At the conclusion of that project, we will have both information available as to the results of the process, and some recommendations as to what we’re going to do going forward.”

On the phone, Teevan told FOX 8 News, "We are sort of looking at it and sort of promise to be transparent when we are at the point where we have some findings."

The Kent State researchers said they can only say what their experiments revealed, they cannot speak to the motives of any changes made to the balls.

"It is hard data. It is driven by science so there is no subjectivity," Basu said. "We can't say anything for motive, of course, we can just say that the science shows something is different."