Due in part to the "very long" construction period Rawlings needs to make baseballs after collecting data from the prior season, it's likely that there won't by any "major" change from the 2019 ball to the 2020 ball, Dr. Meredith Wills -- an astrophysicist and contributor to The Athletic -- told SNY.
But Wills -- who recently received an award from SABR for baseball research -- believes a smaller but very significant change likely will be made.
That change could have a positive impact on Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard and others who struggled to grip the 2019 baseball. And the league's policy to more strongly enforce an existing rule regarding pitchers who use substances on the baseballs could be a big reason for the likely change to the ball in 2020.
When discussing how MLB plans to respond in 2020 regarding substances on the ball, it's important to note what happened in 2020 with the Angels, when a visiting clubhouse manager was fired for helping teams doctor baseballs.
"Choosing to look into that at all and enforce it suggests to me that the balls won't be as slick," Wills explained. "Because otherwise, you're going to have a lot of trouble justifying (the rule).
"I think there's good reason that people turned a blind eye this past season (to pitchers using substances) just because the balls aren't grippable. ... The slickness is the only one that I can think of that would be easy to change on a short enough time scale based on what was seen. ... I think that means that they'll end up with not as slick a texture. That's something that actually is reasonably easy to control. ... It has to be done within the factory. It's related to the leather smoothing or the skiving process."
Wills noted that in 2019, some pitchers who were gripping the new ball for the first time dropped it "almost instantly."
While how far the ball flies is not impacted by the slickness of the leather, pitcher grip is. And that grip being better in 2020 would be music to the ears of Syndergaard and many other pitchers.
"I don't have any trust in my slider or curveball," Syndergaard said last April. Every time I get a new baseball out there it feels like I'm holding an ice cube. Very untraditional for me to throw 87 mile per hour sliders. I don't have any answers there. All I know is every baseball I get feels like it's as slick as can be."
Syndergaard, who struggled for the majority of the 2019 season and had difficulty with his slider throughout, would almost certainly benefit greatly from a baseball that is not as slick as it was last season.
In 2019, Syndergaard's slider had an average velocity of 89.1 mph after it averaged 92.0 mph in 2018 and 92.5 mph in 2017. Syndergaard also threw the pitch less frequently than he had since re-working it before the 2016 season.
As the Mets look forward to the start of the 2020 season and a ball that is hopefully less slick, a Syndergaard who is able to confidently throw his slider once again while using it as one of his main weapons is somethng the team can dream on.