Rob Manfred and MLB are looking for consistency on baseball

Commissioner Rob Manfred is well aware that his league’s baseball games are under scrutiny by players, fans and others, and while Major League Baseball is working to address various issues, his message on the subject has a central theme: coherence.

Speaking to a group of sports editors at the MLB headquarters in Manhattan on Monday, Manfred discussed the state of the game, the league’s new streaming deals, potential rule changes, and women’s progress at all levels of baseball. But the conversation has returned several times to the condition of the baseballs in use in the majors this season and the various questions surrounding them.

At issue are two disparate concerns. Some in baseball believe the ball has been somewhat cushioned, nullifying offensive scores and stats across the league. Others have questioned whether there is a safety concern in the wake of the MLB’s growing enforcement of a ban on grip-assisting foreign substances, a move that has negatively impacted pitchers.

On both counts, Manfred argued that the perception was not in line with reality.

It is certainly true that the offense has diminished. The overall batting average in the majors this season is .232. While that number is expected to improve in the heat, it is far below the record low of .237, which was set in 1968, better known as the year of the pitcher. The score is at its lowest level since 1981 and home runs are at its lowest level since 2014.

Manfred said changes were implemented in the ball used in major league parks for 2021 and that the league had been ahead of the changes: he repeatedly cited a report the league had commissioned to study the ball, which found that the main concern was getting more consistency from the ball.

“The change we made in ’21 was meant to, and has had, the effect of hitting the baseball in the spec range much more closely,” said Manfred.

As reported, the league, which owns a minority stake in Rawlings, the exclusive manufacturer of baseballs, experimented with humidors last season, testing them in “peripheral” markets in terms of weather conditions. Based on these results, humidifiers were installed in all parks in 2022.

Addressing the safety issue voiced by Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt and others, Manfred pointed out that while the number of basemen hit had not increased overall, although it was for the Mets – league officials kept looking for a middle ground with players grabbing the ball. The goal, he said, is to find a way to make pitchers more comfortable on the mountain without returning products, such as Spider Tackwhich are seen by many as performance enhancers because they allow pitchers to grab the ball better and spin it faster.

“We have two products out there that we are testing, with major league and minor league players, designed to address the grip issue,” said Manfred. “They are two different approaches in terms of what is best and most functional for the players.

“We want to give pitchers a ball with a better grip, once again more consistent, without providing, let me use the phrase ‘performance enhancement’, associated with the sticky crazy stuff.”

He said baseball could have an approved catch agent by next season.

As for the league’s other issues, Manfred said that “our biggest priority right now is reaching out to our fans from a broadcast standpoint.” He said the league was addressing this issue with streaming deals, such as those recently agreed with Peacock and Apple TV +, and by finding ways to supplement coverage without further eroding the regional sports network model that has been highly profitable for the league. .

He said the MLB had made progress various minor league initiatives to improve the game, with a pass clock that is closest to major league level implementation. He also said he believed women’s progress, on and off the pitch, was a huge priority.

As for the 99-day block which consumed baseball’s off-season, Manfred said his main achievement was that he needed to step up communication, something he’s doing by traveling to meet teams in small groups. And while many feelings were hurt during the block, he said he ended up in a good place.

“At the end of the day, we got an agreement that allowed us to play 162 games,” he said, “and that’s the most important thing.”