Just over a month into the 2022 Major League Baseball season, unfortunately, one of the biggest stories to this point has been the ball. The actual, physical orb we have long called a baseball is a discussion point, and mostly a negative one.
Here at CBS Sports, Mike Axisa and Dayn Perry did a deep dive on the problems, concerns and discussion points. Basically, there have been inconsistencies as the balls go between “juiced” and “deadened.” While most of us are just begging for some consistency, they might be too dead now.
For example, the league batting average is .233. That would be lowest in recorded MLB history. The league slugging percentage is .371, which would be the lowest since 1981. Teams are scoring an average of 4.06 runs per game, which, again, would be the lowest since 1981.
Excellent pitching is obviously part of the equation, as would be much better defense (and this includes, but isn’t limited to, alignment). Still, we’ve seen plenty of balls die on the warning track that looked like home runs, so the eye test says the ball is part of it.
“The change we made in ’21 was intended to, and did, have the effect of centering the baseball in the range of specifications much more tightly,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said, via The New York Times.
Of course, in a very-related topic, a crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances like Spider Tack to alter the baseballs has been implemented. There’s a big discussion to be had on which gripping agents are acceptable and which would qualify as “performance-enhancing.”
For Manfred, he’s looking for a happy medium.
“We have two products out there that we’re testing, with both major league and minor league players, designed to deal with the grip issue,” Manfred said. “It’s two different approaches in terms of what’s better and more functional for players.
“We do want to give pitchers a ball with better grip, again more consistent, without providing, let me use the phrase ‘performance enhancement,’ associated with the crazy sticky stuff.”
In the latter part of that answer, Manfred is surely referring to Spider Tack and substances like that, in which most people agree it’s more than just grip and gets into “cheating” territory.
The hope for all is as we get closer to the summer, the warmer weather brings more offense and gets us in more of a neutral (that is, not “year of the pitcher” or “year of the hitter” territory) place regarding offense. If not, we’ll continue to discuss the baseballs, the mound (height and distance) and whether or not to “ban the shift.”