Why You Should Expect Adjustments To MLB’s Sticky Ball Rule Enforcement
Major League Baseball began enforcing a rule about foreign substances used by pitchers this week – a rule that had been largely ignored for years. How the enforcement was implemented has been many panned by the fans and media, although MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the initial days of the enforcement have gone “really well.” No matter whether that is the case or not, it seems almost certain that some form of adjustments will be made to how the rule is enforced.
In his interview with The Athletic, Manfred said, “First of all, it would be incorrect, blatantly incorrect, to assume that the players and the union did not a) provide input into what we are doing and b) have additional opportunities to provide input that they did not take advantage of. The transparency that I owe is to the players. We were really transparent from the beginning of the year that this was an issue of concern to us and that things needed to change. That’s why we were collecting information. We were clear in the March memo we sent out if things didn’t change there was going to be discipline. We, around the owners meetings there was a ton of publicity around the fact that things had not changed. In fact, they had gotten worse.
“I just don’t see any secret about where this was headed and I know for a fact there was plenty of opportunity for input in the process.”
Asked to clarify what the input from the players has been and whether any of it was adopted, MLB spokesperson said the league had nothing further to add to Manfred’s comment.
It should be noted that the existing rule on the use of foreign substances has been on the books for decades and is under the discretion of the league to enforce. While input was given to the league, it is unclear due to no further comment whether that input was openly received.
But it seems near-certain that some change will take place to the implementation after the end of the season. That’s due to two significant factors: the expiration of the current labor agreement with the players in December, and the possibility of increased pitcher injuries.
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While significant bargaining sessions have yet to gather steam between MLB and the MLBPA, they will shortly on the next labor deal. Adjustments in how the rule is enforced are expected to be part of that process. What form any adjustments come in could be tied to where the issue comes in bargaining sessions. Traditionally, items that are easily resolved get addressed early. While the relations between the two sides are anything but warm these days, the league itself may have reason to seek adjustment.
More than one baseball analyst has noted that the potential for pitcher injury could occur due to the slipperiness of a new ball. Some have suggested that the best way to address providing additional grip without the need to alter substances would be to adopt changes to the ball. In Japan and Korea, the ball is precoated with a sticky substance on the ball. In fact, Rawlings, which is owned by MLB and supplies the balls used by the league has experimented with such a treatment. The balls were tested in Spring Training, with feedback being that the stickiness wore off too fast. But given that was before the current enforcement on the use of foreign substances and could provide a way to make an adjustment. The risk is that the ball has already been changed twice over recent seasons, and it’s unclear how the coating could affect drag.
Certainly, a mountain of new data will be available by the end of the season to see how the enforcement is changing the overall pace of the game. Whether the implementation of the rule enforcement was a terrible decision, the outcome of the change has been to see batting averages increase. The league has been looking for more action on the basepaths while decreasing the number of strikeouts that are at a historic clip. Whether the pendulum swings back dramatically the other way leading to 13-12 or 10-2 games that may be longer but see increased action is possible. But it seems clear that while the rule enforcement is needed, how it’s been rolled out needs tweaking.