Reports of widespread use of "sticky stuff" by MLB pitchers, and the backlash and rule changes that stemmed from it, defined the middle of the 2021 season. Now, the league will be experimenting with a new, "pre-tacked baseball" at the Triple-A level.
The sticky substances applied to baseballs help pitchers better grip the balls, allowing for increased spin on pitches. At the time of the crackdown on substances earlier this year, the sport had a very inept league-wide batting average of .236. Offenses across the sport struggled, and accurate or not, substances were identified as a major potential issue. The MLB instituted random checks on pitchers in the middle of games.
The response was also criticized, though. MLB sprang the changes on pitchers and teams basically overnight, and many players have called for the league adopt some sort of league-wide standard, either a substance that pitchers can legally use, or with a pre-tacked ball.
In August, players were able to try out some pre-tacked ball samples, according to a report by Yahoo Sports. Now, it looks like the balls are ready for the next experimentation phase, over the last few weeks of the Triple-A baseball season. According to Baseball America, a "handful" of teams will get to play with the new balls during the final 10 games of the year.
Pre-tacked baseballs would be new for the Major Leagues, but not for the sport as a whole. Pre-tacked balls are the norm in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization, and per the Yahoo report, the balls are very popular among those who've pitched in those leagues.
At least some of the pitchers who have experience with those baseballs found them to be preferable to the current MLB ball, and the American pitchers who played at the Olympics in Japan earlier this month were even more effusive about the pretacked SSK ball used there.
“It is, I can’t say enough, the best baseball I’ve ever touched,” Twins pitcher Joe Ryan, who played for Team USA, said of the balls being used at the Olympics. “We need this.”
Developing a universal pre-tack ball to aid pitchers, while cracking down on substances, and perhaps most importantly, having everyone on the same page from the start of the 2022 season, sounds like it could be a solid step forward for all involved.