MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to show that he doesn’t get it.
Baseball has an image problem. The game has been getting slower, fewer people are watching on television, and even old school purists are starting to take issue with the way the game is being changed to manipulate the clock.
The thing is, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has known this. His response to some of the perceived issues with the game was to use the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as a guinea pig for rule changes like a three-batter minimum, starting extra innings with a runner on second base and seven inning double-headers.
And, after denying that the baseballs were enhancing ball flight for a couple years, the commissioner’s office “un-juiced” the baseballs this year. Because, in the mind of Manfred, home runs are apparently bad.
If fans hated juiced balls, now they hate that they’re gone because players aren’t making good contact. There needs to be a healthy middle ground so that hitters aren’t at such a large disadvantage.
Where are the hits?
Tuesday night saw Detroit’s Spencer Turnbull throw a no-hitter. Wednesday evening, Corey Kluber of the Yankees no-hit the Rangers on the night they gave away a bobblehead of him. There have now been six* no-hitters already in 2021 (seven if you include Madison Bumgarner’s seven inning no-no in a double-header).
Are the baseballs to blame?
With a leaguewide batting average of .236, giving pitchers such a huge advantage in a way that ultimately slows down the sport, even the best hitters such as Freddie Freeman are struggling to surprising levels.
Players are still generating strong exit velocity, but many are apparently trying harder to generate those hard hits. This may contribute to the unfortunately high number of injuries players are dealing with; there are currently 150 players on the injured list including some of the biggest stars in the game.
This decrease in hard hits can be attributed to an increase in spin-rate to velocity ratios; many batters are taking big rips at pitches and coming up empty. The Mets starting lineup is a great example of this, just look at Pete Alonso’s at-bats.
At the end of the day, this shouldn’t make that much of a difference right?
It is. But the problem was poorly diagnosed by Manfred’s office.
What if Manfred also started cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances to cheat?
It was believed that velocity was the main component of what makes a pitch dominant for the longest time. While that isn’t wrong, it isn’t the whole truth.
Spin-rate for many pitchers can slightly increase with a velocity increase, but the spin-rate to velocity ratio is something that very few pitchers can naturally improve.
Yet that ratio is the main component that makes a pitcher dominant in baseball.
In 2020, Major League Baseball made a poor attempt at trying to catch pitchers who were cheating by saying that umpires were allowed to search and eject any player they suspected of using a foreign substance.
Studies show that it is more effective for a pitcher to add RPM to their fastball than the velocity to get more strikeouts.
The majority of those foreign substances being tacky or sticky materials used to make the ball stick to the pitcher’s hand for a little longer making it so the pitch breaks later, increasing the RPM, and in tandem increasing the pitcher’s whiff percentage.
Let’s look at former Houston Astros pitchers, such as Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Justin Verlander. The spin-rate on each of their fastballs increased by 100-200 RPM on average when they arrived in Houston. Coincidence?
Considering that it’s widely believed that it’s virtually impossible to drastically improve spin-rate without extrinsic help, it’s pretty obvious that some pitchers are cheating to get ahead.
But the Astros aren’t the only team doing it, around 90% of major league pitchers are thought to be cheating. The Astros are just doing it better than most clubs.
It’s been known for a long time that the best pitchers in the sport use these substances to gain an edge, with many of them doing it pretty blatantly.
If Major League Baseball actually cared, they would genuinely crackdown on the issue.
Take time — get it right
Many people believe that the issue with baseball is the length of the game. There is no clock; the game takes as long as it needs to determine an outcome. That has always been part of the beauty of the game. It has been deemed a flaw now, however.
The clock isn’t the problem. Not nearly as much as what hasn’t been happening during those nine innings.
In some situations, base hits can make the game longer, but that’s not necessarily true.
With the BB/9 and HBP/9 slowly rising due to pitchers being taught to pitch hard but not improving their pitchabilty and command by the time they’re reaching the majors.
As a result, this has been making the games longer as well, with still not many hits.
You may be thinking “why do I care?”, and honestly you may not.
But with all the changes that have been going into effect, the man on second in extra innings waters down baseball to such a large extent, giving the team at the top of the inning a heavy advantage considering that doubles aren’t that frequent, to begin with.
There are so many more effective ways to increase viewership for baseball such as getting rid of blackouts on broadcasts, putting a mic on players more often, and showing postseason games on children’s channels to encourage the younger generation to watch.
Major League Baseball actually making an effort to look into pitchers cheating is just another solution to add to the list.
It doesn’t even have to be a ban on all the substances, but having a more strict and fluid set of guidelines would be a much better way to improve the sport rather than what was done in the 2020 season.
At the end of the day, the changes Manfred made have angered many true baseball fans rather than help the sport gain new ones.