I’ve probably taken it for granted since I have been watching him so much and so closely now for a while, but I guess if you don’t pay that much attention to Craig Kimbrel, the big obvious spot on his hat might jar you for a second.
I started hearing that chatter from Mets fans this week, with Kimbrel continuing to look DOMINANT, and I chalked it up to inter-fan chippiness. Hey, I get into it too sometimes, and with MLB announcing that it’s trying to crack down on illegal grip substances, a renewed interest in weird spots on pitchers’ person makes sense.
But I really didn’t think we’d hear it from the Mets manager. In fairness before I share the quotes: he was responding to questions he was asked, and he was hardly making accusations. I appreciate that you can have these conversations in the current moment without it becoming some big pine-tar-slinging fest.
“I’m not in the dugout and it’s a tough thing to see from us on the first base side, but I did see it on TV, the white spot on his cap,” Mets manager Luis Rojas told WEEI after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s something that can be checked, because I know MLB is encouraging us to check and cracking down on using illegal substances on the ball, but I thought it was a tough thing to pick up actually being on the field …. It’s something that can always be asked, and it’s a courtesy, so if we pick it up and see he touches or something, maybe [we will ask about it]. The grip part, we know is because of the control more than anything. There’s a lot said about improving spin rate and stiff, but I know pitchers also don’t want to sail the ball and be hitting guys. I don’t know who does or doesn’t do it, but it’s something you can pay attention to if you see it live.”
So Rojas isn’t saying he thinks Kimbrel is cheating. He’s just saying, yeah, it’s noticeable. This was from last night’s appearance, after Rojas’s comments:
Doesn’t seem like the Mets made a stink about it. Nor should they.
The thing is, as obvious as the spot it, it’s also pretty obvious what the spot is, given that it’s white … on a hat that’s on a guy who’s on a mound with a white rosin bag. If you watch Kimbrel’s pre-pitch routine, he will sometimes use some rosin or dirt, he’ll go to his mouth, then he’ll go to his cap, then he’ll go to his pants (you have to go to some surface after going to your mouth before going to the ball). Given that order, yeah, his hat’s gonna get a big spot right there, and since guys are all routine-oriented, he probably likes it or whatever.
A couple things:
(1) MLB wants to crack down on grip substances, and we know their use is widespread. I won’t rule anything out. To me, it looks like a guy who is trying to use rosin and dirt and spit and his hat and his pants to get his fingers just right for his grip, but again, I don’t want to be too naive.
(2) That said, Kimbrel’s spot is *SO* big and clear and consistent and obvious that if Kimbrel were using a substance, you would think he would be the very first player busted on the very first day of enforcement. I’m thinking there’s nothing there, and that’s why it’s so obvious. The alternative explanation – dirt, rosin, and spit, plus habit – makes plenty of sense.