Will the new MLB rules for muddying baseballs be the fix the process needs?

In what may be an impossible search for consistency in how Major League ball is played, baseball has sent out a new memo and video detailing the process by which club attendees must apply clay to balls before games.

A league source said: “We have heard best practices from all 30 clubs, and heard players’ opinions throughout the season. The note was in response to these comments.”

The note explains how each attendee must lay the clay and then store the balls before game time. As ESPN reports, in addition to confirmation from multiple sources, these guidelines are as follows:

  • All game balls must be stored in humidifiers for at least 14 days before being moved through the mudding process.
  • The disturbance must be done on the day of the match.
  • Attendees must muddle the ball in a video-determined process that must take 30 seconds for each ball.
  • There should be an accurate standard ratio of water to slurry used in the slurry process.
  • All baseballs to be used in a particular game must be disturbed within three hours of using all other baseballs in that game.
  • Once the slurry process is complete, all balls must be returned to the spaced Rawlings bins, and then placed in the humidor.
  • When taken out of the humidor for that day’s game, only eight dozen balls at a time should be placed in a ball bag. In addition, the inside of the ball bags should be thoroughly cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth and then with a dry cloth to ensure that there are no residues, dust or excessive moisture.
  • A poster will be provided to each team showing the acceptable range of muddy baseball appearance. (dark light)

Past contacts have varied from team to team, which is exactly why baseball has spent the past two years listening to teams and trying to determine best practices. Teams used to have up to five days of interval between mudding and using games, which was reduced to two days, and then finally to 24 hours last September due to reports of dry or chalky balls.

“I feel like it’s a big time in Arizona, when it’s dry,” Chris Bassett said of the balls he called “dusty” in 2016, when the balls could be scrubbed before the series, and Arizona didn’t have a moisturizer. “I can’t control the ball there.”

Most of these rules are made to ensure the ball doesn’t dry out too much, but there’s also a risk in the other direction: that the ball is too chalky because it has so much moisture in it.

“Previously teams would scrub balls and put them in the bag and put them in the humidor,” said a league source. “Now there is less time with all these balls on top of each other in the bag. There are fewer balls together and less time in the bag.”

Putting them in the bag together was problematic for two reasons. First, the bags will get dirty and add more mud and dirt to the balls at the bottom over the course of the game, causing color inconsistency. This is partly why the new rules require teams to clean the bag more often.

More important, perhaps, was the fact that the mudding process includes water – water that should then ideally evaporate before playtime. Not much, because then you get a dusty ball. But if not enough water evaporates, you get a chalky ball for a different reason. A baseball blogger and researcher writing under the pseudonym Fight Stick did some experiments at home where he muddied the balls and then sealed them in a bag. He found, using an instrument to measure the relative humidity in the bag, that the sealing balls in the bags did not allow sufficient evaporation.

“It takes hours – depending on different parameters – for that moisture to evaporate, and changes to the 2022 protocol increase the likelihood that the balls will not have enough time to evaporate, causing them to fall victim to this slippage,” he wrote in his conclusion. “In particular, the balls can feel really good and ready to go while still have some extra moisture in the surface, and then quickly go to hell if the remaining evaporation inside the safely sealed bag is prevented.”

Taking a muddy ball, then closing it in a nylon bag with other mud balls, may not allow this essential amount of water to evaporate, leaving a slippery ball.

“I don’t know what Major League Baseball is playing with these baseballs, but that totally got out of my hands,” bowler Michael Lorenzen recently told Jeff Fletcher on the Orange County Register. “These baseballs are smooth.”

Despite the fact that there are long trends at the league level (more inward promotion, more endorsements in the region, more focus on things on leadership) driving up the pitch overall, also the fact that hit after hit this year has really gone down from Its climax, the league can not ignore the players’ subjective experiences. Squeak has also found some evidence that throwing errors from hunters and third base runners reach such a point that there is a one to two percent chance of just by chance. There is something to these complaints and it may have something to do with the mud and how the balls are stored.

Perhaps some sympathy is due to the baseball operations department in the process. The ball is handcrafted, and the turbidity process is nearly a hundred years old. There are 30 teams, each with their own small differences in how the balls are polluted. The ideal amount of moisture on the ball is not only a personal thing, but it is a difficult measurement to get right.

But there are also some concerns about the process by which MLB produces these guidelines. Listening to teams and developing best practices based on those conversations is fine, but it has its limitations. For example, Paste found that placing balls in boxes, closing the lid, and stacking them—as the present note requires—still limit the amount of evaporation that can occur. There is no doubt that it is better than putting it in a bag, but how better would it be?

It remains to be seen, and it suffices to raise questions about whether the process should be more guided by rigorous scientific testing.

“My main concern with the new MLB protocols is that they haven’t provided evidence or justification for why they’re making a difference,” said Dr. Meredith Wells, who independently investigates MLB baseballs. “Standardization is a good thing, but if none of the changes address an identifiable problem, it’s just protocol theater.”

Perhaps there should be a scientifically defined level of moisture and mud on the balls, and then some evidence of testing showing that following these guidelines leads to that level. Then again, it’s a man-made ball used by many different people who have different opinions about this ideal level of moisture, so there may not be a player-approved kickball (which may not be very close). Perfect solution.

Perhaps listening to the teams and repeating toward a collectively defined list of top runs is all a baseball game can do. This means that success will be decided subjectively, though, which means that discussion about the process will almost certainly continue.

(Top photo of the ball being kneaded for use in spring training: Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

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