Major League Baseball has been testing a pair of tacks in the Texas and Southern League — two of the three Double-A levels — during the season, reports Evan Drellich from the athlete. It is a continuation of the league’s ongoing efforts to find an improved material for catching shooters.
Drillich provides a breakdown of the experience. For the first couple of months of the year, material from one of the different manufacturers was put on the foundation balls. The league is now centered on treating balls with mud, the standard process used at the MLB level, as a control group. This control test will be with the standard Major League ball, which is different from the ball typically used by Double-A. The manufacturer’s second material will be tested sometime later in the year.
The test in Double-A comes on the heels of other fairly recent experiments with applying a universal ball grip enhancer. Baseball America reported last September that MLB will introduce a prototype ball at some Triple-A games late in the 2021 season, and Drelish wrote that one of the materials currently under consideration was first introduced during the Arizona League last fall. Commissioner Rob Manfred has previously expressed support for the possibility of an eventual implementation of a pre-treated ball at the Major League level.
Sticky stuff hasn’t been a popular topic this season as it was last year, when the MLB campaigned mid-season on the bowler’s use of foreign materials. The league has long prohibited the application of foreign substances – outside of the provided rosin bag – to the ball, but has previously left ball rigging largely uncompulsory in practice. As more bowlers begin to use particularly strong grip enhancers to improve rotation and movement in their pitches, the league began at times a controversial system to implement last June.
After a few weeks of contention, checks for foreign material have largely faded into the rear-view mirror. jugs – Hector Santiago And the Caleb Smith – He was suspended last season for failing substance checks, but there was no rash recklessness in discipline. Sports Illustrated reported this spring that the MLB was concerned that bowlers had found a way to bypass enforcement later in the year and planned for tougher showings this season. However, during the first two months of 2022, no pitchers were fired or suspended for a foreign substance violation.
Despite the suppression, the association has looked for ways to introduce a milder grip enhancer that could help shooters with ball control without dramatically improving the quality of things. Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, told Drillish that they continue to search for a viable grip enhancer but do not consider changing the ball an absolute necessity.
“We have a ball that has served the sport well for decades and have taken a number of steps to make baseball the most consistent game it has ever been.Sword said. “As we continue to explore solutions to add vulgarity without physically increasing turnover rates, it is very difficult to correct, and we have set a very high standard for success.“
The primary driver of the league’s increased diligence in rooting out foreign matter was a dip in balls in play that MLB and many observers found troubling. The league’s strike rate has skyrocketed over its entire history, but it has taken an especially sharp upward turn over the past decade or so. Undoubtedly, improving pitch quality contributes to more swing and miss, and the league has looked for ways to restore some balance in favor of hitters.
MLB has dealt with more concerns about attacking this season, although the swing and miss issues have settled to some extent. The league’s 22.2% strike rate enters play Thursday, a percentage point down from last season and 1.2 points from a record high in 2019-20. The MLB touch rate of 76.6% – on the percentage of swings the batter makes – is up slightly from last season’s 76.1% and slightly better than the 75.3% mark for 2020.
However, league results have plummeted along with a drop in power output. The use of foreign materials is, of course, one of the many factors that influence league fouling. Things like weather, ball formation/storage, globally assigned hitter execution, hitters approach and mechanics all have their own impact on goal-scoring and playing style.
Drillic writes that the early returns on materials currently being tested in Double-A have led to a huge backlash from some of the league’s players and coaches. One jug called the first material tested”awesome“while another noted that he and his colleagues were excited about the return of the standard rot process for the control portion of the test. The MLB official admitted that the newer materials “Popular with some and unpopular with others, just like our current ball which is popular with some without others. “
The various comments illustrate at best the challenges MLB still faces in delivering serial ball to the highest level. A league official told Drelish that while the league is not ruling out the possibility of providing a prepackaged ball to MLB by 2023, it does not appear likely that it will be viable by that point. Drillish wrote that the league and the MLB Players Association have remained in touch about the trial, and presumably the league would prefer the association’s cooperation in any efforts to implement it in the majors. (Minor league players are not affiliated with guilds and have little recourse to respond to any of the rule trials made at affiliates.)
The sports publication is well worth reading for those interested in the topic. Drillich talks with various players, league officials, player development staff, and others about the challenges and complications of testing.