To counter juiced ball theory, Rob Manfred insists any differences between game balls are normal variations to be found in any handcrafted, artisansal product made from natural materials.

Well on his way to his second World Series le, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander shouldn't have had any complaints about his dominant, storybook season. And yet on a sunny June day in The Bronx, the 39-year-old three-time Cy Young winner knew something was off.

Before warming up with his team for a hotly anticipated match against the New York Yankees, Verlander made a point of confronting a Major League Baseball official on the field. With a wry grin that belied a long-simmering frustration he and many other players have felt, he ambled up to the official and asked within earshot of a reporter: "When are you gonna fix the in' baseballs?"

The baseballs have been a source of controversy in MLB for years. Back in 2017, Verlander was one of several players and coaches that noticed the balls used at the World Series were slicker than normal. And last year, Insider reported that there were two distinct types of baseballs in circulation during the 2021 season, something the league had not disclosed. One ball had a center weight roughly two-and-a-half grams heavier than the other, making it carry further off the crack of the bat.

"MLB has a very big problem with the baseballs, and they're bad," Chris Bassitt, a pitcher for the New York Mets, said in a televised rant on SNY after an April start against the Cardinals. "Everyone knows it. Every pitcher in the league knows it. They're bad."

"[MLB] doesn't give a damn about it," he said. "We've told them our problems with [the baseballs]. They don't care."

When asked what made them so bad, Bassitt said: "They're all different. The first inning they're decent; the third inning they're bad; the fourth inning they're OK; the fifth inning they're bad… there's no common ground with the balls."

At a press conference before the 2022 All-Star Game in July, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of MLB, acknowledged that the league had used two baseballs the previous year, as Insider had reported. He chalked the ball variance up to a COVID-era manufacturing issue at the Rawlings plant in Turrialba, Costa Rica: The league had deliberately switched to a new, lighter, deader ball, but pandemic closures and supply-chain issues meant that it needed to dip into a reserve stock of the older, heavier, livelier balls for some 2021 games. The league claimed it distributed the two balls randomly for use in games.

But, Manfred promised from the podium, that was all over: "Every baseball that's in use in '22 was produced under the new manufacturing process" – meaning the deader ball – "and in fact, the process has resulted in a more consistent baseball."

But according to a new analysis of more than 200 balls used in games during the 2022 season that Meredith Wills, a Society for American Baseball Research award-winning astrophysicist, conducted, that's not true. Major League Baseball did not settle into using a single, more consistent ball last season, Wills' research suggests: the league used three.