With balls once again flying out of ballparks in fan-pleasing numbers, Nippon Professional Baseball has finally confirmed what many players believed, that the official baseball has been secretly "juiced."
NPB is now taking heat for not disclosing the livening of the ball beginning this season, following a sharp drop in the number of home runs after its introduction in 2011.
NPB admitted that it had juiced the ball during a June 11 meeting in Sendai with the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association, a labor union of professional ballplayers. The admission came in response to an inquiry from the association.
The NPB secretariat instructed Mizuno Corp., the ball's manufacturer, to liven the ball around summer 2012 after NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato left the issue entirely to the secretariat. The secretariat had not disclosed the alteration to professional baseball teams or the JPBPA.
The secretariat also asked Mizuno to refrain from revealing the modification of the ball.
"Professional ballplayers can easily tell whether the ball has been livened or not when they hit the ball,” said Shinya Miyamoto, an infielder with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. “NPB should have officially announced that it would review (the ball) when it ordered the ball to be livened."
Until the 2010 season, the 12 NPB teams had separately concluded contracts with ball manufacturers for an official ball. Since the 2011 season, all teams have been required to use the new standardized ball.
"NPB announced that decision before the start of the (2011) season. At this time, why did NPB announce the ball had been livened now?" Miyamoto asked. "I feel that players who are giving their all on the field are not being respected.”
Motohiro Shima, a catcher with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who is serving as chairman of the JPBPA, said, “Some players signed contracts (for the 2013 season) based on their statistics of the previous seasons when the balls did not fly well. (For those players) conditions under their new contracts have changed.”
Kunio Shimoda, secretary-general of NPB, said the secretariat's decision may have been wrong.
“We thought that we should not create a controversy by announcing the alteration of the ball," he said. "But if we are told that we eventually caused confusion (by refraining from announcing it), that may be correct.”
In the 2012 season, each team hit an average of 0.51 home run per game. In the 2013 season, however, the figure had jumped to 0.75 as of June 11.
It had been widely believed by players that the official ball had been livened to fly farther off the bat. However, NPB had denied the rumor, saying that the ball had not been modified.
When the standardized ball was introduced from the 2011 season, the coefficient of restitution of colliding objects, which measures the ball’s liveliness, was reduced to near the lowest limit of the tolerable range to be closer to the standard for international play.
When the coefficient is lower, the ball doesn't travel as far when hit. Because of the reduction of the coefficient, the number of home runs dropped sharply from 1,605 in the 2010 season to 939 in the 2011 season and 881 in the 2012 season.
The number of home runs in the current season stood at 512 as of June 11, on pace for a season total of 1,297.
According to NPB, balls were tested several times during the 2012 season, and the average coefficient of restitution was found below the lowest limit in some cases.
NPB instructed Mizuno to liven the balls, saying, “The coefficient of restitution of the ball to be used in the 2013 season must not be below the lowest limit.”
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