Justin Verlander thinks balls are juiced, J.D. Martinez isn't so sure

Rob Bradford
July 09, 2019 - 7:40 am

It's a conversation that has been happening in clubhouses throughout Major League Baseball, albeit just not in boisterous tones.

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That changed Monday.

When asked about the idea that the baseballs used by MLB have been altered, Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander didn't hold back.

"It's a f---ing joke," Verlander told ESPN.com "Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you've got (commissioner Rob) Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f---ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what'd he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It's not coincidence. We're not idiots."

Has the alteration been intentional in Verlander's mind?

"Yes. 100 percent," he added. "They've been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever. They know how to do it. It's not coincidence. I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced."

Not everyone agrees, however.

When asked at the All-Star Game's media availability Monday J.D. Martinez initially responded to the question by saying, "A lot of talk about it. Everybody wants to talk about it. All the home runs, stuff like that. I have my own opinion on it."

Martinez then went on to offer his take on why home runs have gone up 60 percent from five seasons ago.

"I think hitters are more prepared then they have ever been," he said. "I think hitters have more of an idea of what they're trying to do, hitting the ball in the air more. I think pitchers now, it's a power-arm league. It's either a walk or a strikeout, stuff over command. So I think you see a lot more mistakes over the plate. The velocity and the guys trying to hit the ball in the air is a recipe for home runs. In years past it was more of a command and location, movement-type stuff. A weak-contact kind of league. Now everybody wants the strikeout. The Dodgers started doing it. Tampa started doing it. Then Houston started it. Then everyone saw this success and it's a monkey-see, monkey-do league so everybody copies. It's crazy. You look at a bullpen now versus a bullpen back then and you feel like you face the same pitchers every team you play. It's like, 'OK, this guy throws a four-seam and breaking ball. Great. Four-seam, breaking ball guy.' Goes to the next team and, oops, same thing.

"I think there is going to be a swing back. I think it comes in waves. Pitching always evolves and then hitting catches up. And then pitching evolves and hitting catches up. I think we're at that point now where hitting has caught up. It's catching up. You still have guys who have great stuff."

So, does the Red Sox designated hitter/outfielder think the balls are different?

"Like I said, I have my own opinion on it. My opinion is that, what I said," Martinez noted. "What you're asking is why is there so many home runs. That's why. That's my answer to you."