The great home run mystery of 2015-17 has been solved. Maybe.Yesterday, former FiveThirtyEight writer Ben Lindbergh and prominent sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman published a piece at the Ringer with evidence showing that alterations to the ball might partially explain the spike in home runs over the past two seasons. By physically testing the balls, they found that in addition to changes that make the ball come off the bat faster, the seams were made flatter in a way that could affect the ball’s aerodynamics. With their findings in mind, I examined the rate of home runs per fly ball and found further evidence suggesting that the ball itself may be the culprit.Just after the All-Star Break in 2015, MLB’s home run rate increased without warning or explanation. Since then, it has continued rising, and it now threatens the all-time record set in the heart of the steroid era. In a series of articles at FiveThirtyEight, Lindbergh and I ruled out various explanations for the home run surge, including weather, a wave of young talent, and steroids, leaving alterations to the ball as the most likely answer. It’s either that, or 750 MLB players woke up one morning in 2015 with more pop in their bats. Despite MLB’s repeated denials, Lindbergh and Lichtman reveal that the 2016-17 baseballs have different physical properties — and those changes could explain the record-breaking home run rates. The primary alteration to the ball affected its bounciness, making it come off the bat faster. But Lindbergh and Lichtman also uncovered evidence that the ball’s seams are lower and that its circumference has decreased. Those changes should decrease the ball’s air resistance, so that a new ball should go farther than an old ball that leaves the bat at the same speed.And it turns out the new balls do tend to travel farther. I built a model to predict whether a given fly ball would go over the fence in 2015, based on the launch angle, exit velocity and stadium.1I defined a fly ball as one hit with launch angle greater than 20 degrees. Then I used that model to predict how many home runs there were in 2016.2I used a random forest to produce the results discussed in this article. I also ran a logistic regression, which produced similar findings.If the ball stayed the same, the model should be able to forecast the right number of homers. Instead, the league hit about four percent (201 total) more home runs hit than expected in 2016, even accounting for the higher exit velocities and better launch angles. That’s significantly more than you’d see by chance.3The p value was less than 0.01. The changes can also be seen in the trends of the last few years: If you focus on balls hit with launch angles of between 20 and 40 degrees and exit velocities higher than 100 miles per hour (roughly corresponding to the league’s definition of “barreled balls”), 72.9 percent of those flies ended up over the fence in 2015, compared to 74.7 percent in 2016 and 76.4 percent so far this year. Of course, another possibility is that MLB recalibrated Statcast, the radar tracking system that maps the trajectory of every batted ball, which could cause the same ball to be listed with different exit velocities in 2016 to and 2015. But even if that did happen, it would not resolve the mystery, it would only shift responsibility for the home run spike to inexplicably harder hitting, instead of more favorable ball aerodynamics.It’s possible that weather (temperature, wind or humidity) could be affecting home run rates, but when I examined only domed stadiums, I found the same increase in dingers. I asked baseball physicist Alan Nathan to calculate what effect the new balls could have, and he found that the changes in the seam height and circumference would increase average batted-ball distance something like 1 or 2 feet, raising home run rates by approximately 4 percent — identical to what I observed.Reached for comment, Major League Baseball noted that the league regularly tests baseballs to ensure that they meet established standards, and that recent tests have found that the balls are within those standards. MLB also said that an outside consultant has examined their results and found no reason to suspect that the baseballs in use today would cause an increase in offense.To be sure, the league-wide impact of tweaking the ball’s aerodynamics is small. According to Lindbergh and Lichtman, who note that their experiments are not definitive, the seam height and circumference changes only appeared in 2016, well after the midyear adjustment in 2015 that kicked off the home run surge (that part of the increase is likely attributable to increases in the balls’ bounciness). It’s likely that many factors are contributing to the ongoing spike in home run rates, including hitters adjusting their approaches and favorable weather conditions, but we now have a compelling explanation for the bulk of the spike.
Shelby Lum / Photo editorFreshman defensive specialist Valeria León serves the ball before a match against Dabrowa, Sept. 4 at St. John Arena. OSU won, 3-2.The No. 23 Ohio State women’s volleyball team is set to travel to Tallahassee, Fla. this weekend for its second early season tournament in the Sheraton Seminole Invitational.Ohio State, 3-0 on the year and fresh off a victory against Polish professional team Dabrowa on Wednesday night, will take on No. 16 Western Kentucky at 11 a.m. Friday before matching up against the tournament host, No. 15 Florida State, at 7 p.m. The Buckeyes will finish off the tournament against unranked Florida Gulf Coast Saturday at noon.Coach Geoff Carlston said all of the teams play good volleyball, but Western Kentucky and Florida State will be especially challenging.“They’re two very good teams,” Carlston said. “Western Kentucky just beat (then-No. 16 Purdue) and Florida State had a great weekend as well.”The Seminoles fell to No. 18 Illinois but knocked off then-No. 17 Kentucky and unranked Long Beach State.Carlston said that it will be a challenge to play two tough opponents back-to-back, but said his team has been in similar situations before.“That’s what we just did (at the NIU Invitational), we went five (against Green Bay) and then four hours later we played (Northern Illinois) and went five with them,” he said.Carlston also said that both teams play a different brand of volleyball, adding that FSU is a “big, physical team.”Sophomore middle blocker Andrea Kacsits said she is looking forward to playing a tough schedule and that she recognizes it as an opportunity to make a statement.“I think it will be really fun to play higher-ranked teams,” Kacsits said. “Then potentially to beat higher-ranked teams.”Junior setter Taylor Sherwin said she is looking forward to the opportunity as well.“It’s (going to be) a fun experience for us because we are considered a young team this year,” Sherwin said. “I feel like our team has so much to offer, and everyone will be seeing that this weekend.”While she is excited, Kacsits said she recognizes that this year’s team will have to find its own brand of volleyball.“I expect to see really scrappy defense,” she said. “I think this year we’re going to play a lot of really ugly volleyball, but it’s going to be really fun volleyball.”Even with an undefeated record, senior libero Davionna DiSalvatore said there is room for improvement at the service line.“We struggled a little bit on our serving (at the NIU Invitational),” Disalvatore said. “I think we need to be more consistent.”Even though there are areas that still need work, Carlston said he is happy to play teams ranked ahead of his own.“I’d much rather play teams ranked ahead of us,” Carlston said. “This is a good test for our team to be able to play such quality teams this weekend.”The Buckeyes, who are in the midst of a stretch of seven matches in nine days, will return to Columbus Sept. 13-14 for the Sports Imports DC Koehl Classic. OSU will play Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis, Southeast Missouri and Xavier in the tournament.
Then-sophomore pitcher Alex DiDomenico winds up for a pitch during a game against Michigan State April 24 at Buckeye Field. OSU won, 6-3.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorThe Ohio State softball team is confident new training methods and a complete team effort will lead to success when it kicks off its season Friday.After finishing last year with a 34-22 overall record, the team is eager to see if a productive offseason will help produce winning results in a schedule that includes some daunting opponents.The team is scheduled to play nine games against teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the NFCA/USA Today Preseason Top 25 poll.In her second year as coach, Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she knows what to expect more this season now that she is more familiar with the personnel.“I think I know their strengths better and we were able to kind of change the training to try to get their weaknesses stronger, but build up what they’re good at,” Schoenly said.Redshirt-senior pitcher Melanie Nichols said changing training regimens has helped the team during the offseason.“We switched our workout plan and as a pitching staff we did resistance work, that made us stronger,” Nichols said.Junior outfielder Caitlin Conrad said the team is not just working on strength, but also mental aspects of the game as well.“We’ve learned about breathing methods to help calm yourself down because it’s a rush sometimes,” Conrad said. “All of that will build into the teamwork and the team’s success this year.”Schoenly, Conrad and Nichols all stressed the importance of OSU taking on the difficult schedule as a team.“It’s all about the team this year. We’ve been really focusing on everybody being one instead of individual goals,” Conrad said. “We trust each other that we’re putting the work in and the effort so that when we come back, we can give 100 percent and not lose a step.”Schoenly said it is important for players to not only trust their teammates, but also themselves.“We don’t expect just one person to lead. They all have a voice, the whole team,” Schoenly said. “We empower them to all have a voice at any given moment so it’s not just two people talking at them.”Nichols said she is anxious to begin her final season, which wraps up a career that already has her ranked sixth in school history with 269 strikeouts and tied for seventh with 39 wins.“My goals are just to get better and go out with a bang my senior year and do what I can to help my teammates and my younger pitchers,” Nichols said. “With all the seniors, I think it could definitely be a good year ‘cause we have so many upperclassmen.”Among those upperclassmen is senior catcher Melissa Rennie.“Rennie has been playing really well behind the plate. A lot of it is with her training and how seriously she took it,” Schoenly said. “Very strong and very confident, she’s a senior now so she wants to put it all out there for her last year.”OSU is also returning junior pitcher Alex DiDomenico, who led the team in ERA, strikeouts and wins in 2013.Joining Conrad in the outfield is junior Taylor Watkins, who earned Second Team NFCA All-Midwest last year. Schoenly said the outfield is looking especially impressive moving into the season.“Their arms are phenomenal, as a group you won’t find another outfield like this,” Schoenly said. “I cannot believe I have them all on one team.”OSU is looking to warm up its bats at two tournaments in Florida and one tournament in Las Vegas in the month of February.The Buckeyes are scheduled to begin play a doubleheader in Boca Raton, Fla., Friday against Tulsa and St. John’s, as part of the FAU Kick-off Classic.
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone was left satisfied with the performance of his players following their penalty shoot-out win against Arsenal in SingaporeWith the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin and Diego Costa still absent from the squad following their participation at the World Cup, Simeone was forced to field a make-shift side for their first pre-season friendly against Arsenal.Due to this, Atletico struggled for large parts of the game against Arsenal but were able to take the lead through Luciano Vietto before teenager Emile Smith-Rowe cancelled it out with a stunning equalising goal for the Gunners.After the game ended in a draw between the two side, Atletico went on to defeat Arsenal 3-1 on penalties with Rodri, Victor Mollejo and goalkeeper Antonio Adan scoring the spot-kicks.“To face Arsenal, with the quality players they have, isn’t easy,” Simeone told the club website.Merson believes Arsenal should sign Sancho Manuel R. Medina – September 14, 2019 Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho might be the perfect player to play for the Gunners, according to former England international Paul Merson.“We competed really well.”As for the young players out on the field, Simeone said: “I’m happy because lots of lads played. We’ve been working to integrate them into what this team has been doing for the past seven years, a strong defensive structure,” he said. “It makes me so happy because it shows them the jump to First Division isn’t as far as they think.”New signings Rodrigo and Adan made their unofficial debuts with the latter saving three penalties before going to score one of his own in the shoot-out win.“Rodrigo played well and was in the team’s dynamic,” said Simeone.“Adán started his career with Atlético in the right way because he was there when the team needed him.”