Rosenthal: With the balloon again a topic of conversation, a pre-pasted version can’t come soon enough

The ball. Every year it’s something with the freaking ball.

The current season is only three weeks old, and already the ball is the subject of two debates – if it is too dead and if its surface is too inconsistent, creating frustration for pitchers with their handles, especially in cold weather.

Almost four years ago, Major League Baseball bought 25 percent of Rawlings, the company that makes the ball. You would think that now, even with the interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the problems would be solved. You would think the league would use a ball with a ready-to-use sticky surface similar to the pre-glued versions used in Japan and Korea. But no, we are not there yet.

At this point, it could fall to the league to create a department focusing exclusively on the ball, overseen by a Lord of the Seams. Obviously, the league needs to communicate better with players – stop me if you’ve heard this before – and provide full transparency on all ball-related issues.

I mean, I can’t imagine the commissioner’s officer enjoying seeing quotes like the ones that came out of the Mets clubhouse on Tuesday night.

“MLB has a very big problem with baseballs,” Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt told reporters. ” They are bad. Everybody knows it. Every pitcher in the league knows that. They are bad. They do not care. MLB doesn’t care. They do not care. We told them our problems with them. They don’t care.

Mets catcher James McCann added, “My view is that it’s 2022. There’s enough technology to understand baseball. We mean pressed balls, dead balls, slick balls, sticky balls. It’s 2022. We should have an answer.

Cheer! Except for one thing. Not all pitchers agree that the ball is a problem. Some believe that this season’s introduction of an official rosin bag is helping to alleviate grip issues caused by the crackdown on illegal sticky substances the league initiated last June. Honduran Pine 8oz rosin bags manufactured by Pelican are subject to strict chain-of-custody protocols and are the responsibility of a specific member of clubhouse staff at each major league park.

“I like him. There’s a noticeable sticky difference,” Phillies right-hander Kyle Gibson said. Athleticismis Matt Gelb. “I’m obviously the outlier, it seems. Some guys, I don’t think they like it. They feel like they need to get more moisture from something with it. But I’m amazed every time. I had (pitching coach) Caleb (Cotham) sitting there, like, ‘Hey, do the umpire’s hand check right now. Are they gonna let me get away with this? You know?”

Two other veteran pitchers from teams in northern climates, speaking on condition of anonymity, also had no problem with the uniform rosin bag, with one calling it “a fair compromise”. The Mets, however, are particularly sensitive right now. Their hitters have reached the major league high 19 times in just 20 games.


Kyle Gibson of the Phillies (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

But is the problem the ball, the throwing of Mets opponents, or just a small-scale aberration? No other club has been hit more than 13 times. The league average is eight. And thanks to Tuesday’s play, the success rate per pitch on a comparable number of plate appearances was the lowest since 2018, according to MLB.

Season RAP%

2022

1.14

2021

1.37

2022

1.32

2019

1.16

2018

1.1

The league, in collective bargaining with the players’ union, made several proposals regarding an automatic ejection for hitting a batter in the head or neck with a fastball, regardless of intent, sources said. The union rejected the idea, which resembles the one used by Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Players are unlikely to ever accept strict liability for pitches that may hit batters by accident, without intent.

As part of those conversations, the league also offered a discussion of additional discipline for batting aggregate hits. More recently, league officials have unofficially pitched to some players the idea of ​​a hit-per-pitch point system for pitchers, in addition to an automatic ejection for hitting a hitter over the shoulder. indicated sources. The way the system would work, each hit per pitch would count for a certain number of points against the pitcher depending on the type of pitch and location. A batter’s foot slider can be one point, a fastball in the ribs can be three. Once the pitcher exceeds a set threshold, they would be suspended.

The idea seems impractical on several levels, the kind of response that often prompts players to complain that the league office is offline. Players recognize that hit batsmen are part of the game. Batters rarely complain about being hit below the waist. Imagine how ridiculous the league would be if Max Scherzer was ejected in the seventh inning of a critical game in September because he hit a batter on the point and hit his run threshold.

Do not worry; the point system doesn’t seem to have traction. And really, it misses the point. The problem, as the RAP ratings suggest, isn’t the hit batsmen. The problem, some pitchers say, is the ball. As Bassitt said, “(The bullets) are all different. Round one they’re okay, round three they’re bad, round four they’re OK, round five they’re bad. And we have climates different. Everything is different. There is no common ground with the balls. There is nothing the same from one outing to the next.

Some pitchers say the inconsistency extends to umpires and the different standards they apply to pitchers who try to produce moisture on their hands so they can grip the ball in cold weather – licking their fingers , for example. Which brings us back to the sticky stuff and the gray area that exists between the league’s crackdown on illegal substances and pitchers’ desire to control the ball in their hand.

Almost everyone involved in the sport thinks some sort of crackdown was warranted. But as Mets manager Buck Showalter told reporters On Wednesday, “The question is whether we as an industry have gone too far in the other direction.” If the league’s primary concern is the higher spin rates produced by certain substances, a pitcher asks, why not set baselines for all pitchers, allow them to use whatever concoctions they choose, then nail anyone? whose rotation jumps at an abnormally high rate?

Egad, that would be another conversation that misses the point. The pre-glued ball would be the obvious, all-encompassing solution, providing pitchers with a consistent, even grip and eliminating the need for stickies once and for all. At least that would be the idea.

The league experimented with such a ball in select Triple-A games during the final days of the 2021 minor league season and uses it in the Double-A Texas League this season. The major leagues haven’t reacted well to a version of an improved grip ball the league tested during spring training camps in 2019. But so far, according to a source, the Texas ball League was well received.

MLB can’t adopt a form of it soon enough. We’re all tired of talking about the ball, aren’t we?

(Chris Bassitt top photo: Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Jessica C. Bell