Major League Baseball Works on Standardizing the Ball… For What Purpose?
Back in 2014, I wrote an article for The Lean Post:
I'm a big fan of Taiichi Ohno's advice to “start from need.” I cringe when I hear people say that we should standardize the way work is done “because Lean says so.” There's no substitute for judgment in the grey areas related to standardized work.
What should we standardize? For what purpose? How standardized should the work be?
Here are some previous posts on this topic, including one that touches on the level of standardization that's seen with NCAA basketballs:
Standardized doesn't mean identical.
For many products, there are specifications for key dimensions and characteristics. These specifications usually include a range. There is variation in everything. Look at the size and weight of baseballs used in Major League Baseball, for example.
According to Wikipedia, the spec for balls used in MLB play reads as:
Under the current rules, a major league baseball weighs between 5 and 5 1⁄4 ounces (142 and 149 g), and is 9 to 9 1⁄4inches (229-235 mm) in circumference (2 7⁄8-3 in or 73-76 mm in diameter).
Every ball doesn't weigh the same. They're all supposed to be within 7 grams of each other. I wonder what the variation is, in practice. What's the “process capability” for the baseball manufacturing process? Are the “control limits” of baseball weight well within the specs? Or does Rawlings, the manufacturer, have to sort out defective balls before shipping them?
This article claims Rawlings produces balls with far less variation than the spec:
“Rawlings makes baseballs with a much, much, much tighter spec than they are required to do by the actual spec itself,” Nathan said. “So we recommended altering that and tightening up the spec, and so that when you say the ball is within spec, it has some meaning to it, and they followed that recommendation.”
There are other characteristics of the ball that are said to make a difference in play, including how tightly wound the core of the ball is, how raised the stitches are, etc.
The official rules read:
“Major league balls have rubber pills at the center, wound over by three layers of yarn that is 85 percent wool and 15 percent synthetic, and then a thin layer of cotton. The cover of hide from Tennessee dairy cows is hand-sewn with 108 stitches.”
These differences are said to create a “live ball” — one that flies further and leads to more home runs. At times, it's said the ball is “juiced.” There are conspiracy theories, at times, that say MLB leaders want more home runs and more scoring because the game will be more popular (but professional baseball is also focused on keeping the length of games down, but more scoring means longer games).
An intentionally live ball could be considered a good business decision… or one could worry about “the integrity of the game.”
So this ESPN article caught my eye the other day: