Players and coaches on both teams seem pretty certain something is up with the baseballs being used in the World Series, according to this report from Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. The issue isn’t that they might be juiced so much as it is that they’re apparently too slick for pitchers to throw a dang slider. You can see how that might become an issue!
Said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, referring to his Game 3 starter, Yu Darvish, “Yu noticed the difference. He told me the balls were slicker and he had trouble throwing the slider because of how slick they were. He wasn’t able to throw his slider the same way.”
Sure, you are saying, but what else is a guy gonna say after he gets lit up in the World Series? Fair enough, but that’s just one side of the diamond. The Astros have noticed it, too:
“We had a well-pitched game tonight from both sides,” Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said after Los Angeles won Game 4, 6-2. “I’m not taking anything away from the players. I just want to know why? Why in the world would the baseballs in the World Series be different? Because you can see the difference. You can feel it. I don’t understand it at all.”
The complaints come from Honeycutt and Strom, and Darvish, and also Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers, and Justin Verlander. The consensus is that the leather of the World Series baseballs is noticeably slick under a number of circumstances, not just pitching. McCullers could apparently tell the difference during a blind touch test; Verlander noticed it when signing baseballs, comparing the surface to Starbucks receipts; Morton noticed it throwing a two-seamer. But the problem seems to be most pronounced for pitchers throwing sliders.
Verlander threw 17 sliders in Game 2 and obtained only one swing and miss on the pitch. It equaled the fewest swings and misses on his slider for any of his 36 starts this year of more than two innings.
Darvish lasted only 1 2/3 innings in Game 3, especially because his slider, his signature pitch, was so bad. Darvish threw 14 sliders and did not get a single swing and miss on the pitch. It was the first time in 34 starts this year that Darvish did not get a swing and miss on his slider.
In Game 4, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up a home run on a slider to Alex Bregman. It was the first time all year Jansen gave up a home run on a slider, covering 96 sliders.
No pitcher is having a worse time with his slider lately than Houston closer Ken Giles. During the regular season, Giles threw his slider 47 percent of the time and held hitters to a .133 batting average with it. But the pitch has been so unreliable in the postseason that Giles threw only two sliders among his eight pitches in Game 4 – both of them balls.
I urge you to read the whole report—there’s lots of interesting stuff in there about the slider, including the break on Yu’s slider and the importance of the pitch to several of the guys pitching in this series. It’s hard to come away from reading these accounts and not believe that MLB really did screw with World Series baseballs.