The memo is coming today, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan has the details here. The short version? Every kind of substance that isn’t just straight up rosin could subject you to a 10-day suspension (albeit with pay), starting next Monday, June 21. Things just got a whole lot less predictable, in my opinion, and it was already really unpredictable.
The problem for umpires, understandably, would be trying to wade into the gray area of “how much is too much, when is a little of this substance OK, but that substance is never OK, and can I tell for sure if this is a substance or not,” etc. But the problem for pitchers is that something like clear, spray-on sunscreen (mixed with rosin) has been used for years and years as a legit grip assist, rather than an attempt to increase spin. And according to Passan, even that could get you busted.
I know what the response will be: anything that helps you grip better is still cheating because you could just throw a little softer and you wouldn’t have to worry about losing your grip. And maybe that’s right, and maybe I’ve been duped by Big Sunscreen. But I just see the comments from so many pitchers (and some hitters!) that the baseballs are sufficiently inconsistent in their level of tack that it’s unreasonable to expect pitchers not to want to improve their grip on the mound, just to be able to safely pitch. And I tell you, I see a night like last night, where virtually every Cubs pitcher’s spin rate was waaaaay down, and all of them were badly losing pitches to the arm side … it just feels like there were serious grip issues, which led to control issues, which is concerning for reasons that do go beyond performance. Might’ve been partly related to the misting at the park, but we know that pitchers are trying to adjust to what’s coming. I’m good with eradicating the worst substances from the game – the ones that jack up spin rates 200+ RPMs – but I was assuming that the old tried and true sunscreen+rosin was gonna be fine.
Again, I know, I know, you just have to adjust and deal with it, but I don’t want to see a bunch of batters hit during the adjustment process or in the future.
To that end, from Passan:
Multiple players said they were hopeful that MLB would differentiate among the substances and buy time before the potential issuance of a legal, universal substance pitchers can use for grip. While MLB has explored creating such a product, it has yet to formulate one that serves as a grip enhancer while not being a performance enhancer. Between the grip issue and the league changing the composition of the ball itself this winter, players said they hope to have more input in the future.
Enforcement combined with a new universal substance sure seems like the best approach, but MLB is only going halfway.
The BASEBALL itself is the real issue for me. Every baseball that enters the game is different than the previous one. Sometimes it feels good in your hand. Often times, though, it feels like a dusty cue ball.
— Jerry Blevins (@jerryblevins) June 15, 2021
Just texted with a position player about pitchers no longer being able to use rosin and sunscreen on the mound.
“Hate it. The combo of rosin, sunscreen and pine tar never got any complaints from us since it improves command and relieves fear we wouldn’t catch 95 in the head.”
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) June 15, 2021
Anyway, we’re going to continue to see decreases in usage out there – we’ve already seen some, clearly – but Eno Sarris writes about how there might be a huge swath of pitchers who nevertheless continue using until and unless they, or some big names, are busted. There’s just so many pitchers using stuff right now, including the lesser substances that MLB is also going to try to bust dudes for:
The Athletic asked nearly a dozen hitters, pitchers, coaches, managers and executives around baseball what percentage of pitchers they believe are using the hard stuff. The responses varied, but most fell within the 40-60 percent range.
“Quick guess: 15 percent use super strong glue stuff, 30 percent use stronger pine tar mix/Angels clubhouse type level of mix, 30 percent use a mix of lighter sticky stuff or sunscreen. 20 percent use nothing,” said a veteran pitcher. “If I’m off by more than 10 percent on any of those, I would be surprised.”
An NL hitter opined, “A very select few are completely out of control, where there’s visible marks. I’d guess about half the pitchers are using serious substances, maybe as many as 60-65, tops.”
So … are half of pitchers about to get really wild, and much less effective? Or are a huge chunk of them about to get busted? I just can’t fathom that’ll be the case.
For their part, by the way, the Cubs’ official line is that they’re not worried.
“If that’s the type of thing MLB wants,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said of pitcher checks and changing gear as requested (NBC), “then we’ll do it. And no questions asked, cool, we’re done. You want him to wear a new hat? He’ll wear a new hat.
“We feel confident about what we do here,” Hottovy said. “Whatever MLB decides – they’re going to rule this is what you can use, this is what you can’t use, this is how we’re going to monitor it, track it, all those things – we are fully supportive of whatever they want to do. And quite frankly, we’re ready for it.”