I see a whole lotta panning of the new sticky stuff enforcement the last two days, but not nearly as much discussion of the massive drops in spin rate we continue to see from various pitchers around baseball. Getting sticky stuff out of the game was the point, right? So the checks … have worked?
I will agree that some of the enforcement looks completely feckless and perfunctory, like the first of the Cubs era:
Adbert passes the test. pic.twitter.com/FtaS13eDQf
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 22, 2021
I have no concerns about Adbert Alzolay, mind you, but if he actually had some stuff on his belt or inside his hat or, heck, even right there on the glove, would that umpire have actually observed it? Obviously the point is supposed to be that it’s not worth risking a 10-game suspension (when you can’t be replaced on the roster by your team), but some of these checks would not catch an entire jersey made out of Spider Tack. I mean at least shake the pitcher’s hand, right?
That said, I will agree with those who point out that it’s a situation that is ripe for exploitation by both pitchers who want to freak out and make a scene, as well as managers who want to abuse the ability to ask for additional checks.
To that end, you had a perfect storm of Max Scherzer on the mound and Joe Girardi in the opposing dugout, and I’ll also agree that what happened in the Nats-Phillies game was awfully ridiculous, and is probably creating a disproportionate perception that the new enforcement is a joke.
Scherzer, who was already demonstrably annoyed at being checked at all in a game where his spin rate was down 200 RPMs on his breaking pitches, got really pissed when Girardi asked for another check. Then, when Scherzer was still dominating (remember, spin rate isn’t everything!), he did his Mad Max thing and stared down the Phillies dugout, Girardi responded with some ridiculous “YOU WANNA GO!” type behavior, and eventually got himself tossed:
You want the enforcement to work. You want the EXTREME sticky stuff out of the game. What you don’t want is embarrassing exchanges like this. I tend to think this was mostly about Scherzer and Girardi being unique types, but I guess we’ll see.
As for the comments after the game, Girardi explained why he asked for the subsequent inspection (Yahoo): “I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010, obviously he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. But I’ve never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight, ever. So it was suspicious for me.”
I have seen chatter about pitchers hiding stuff in their hair, so fair enough, but Scherzer, who said he’d have to be a “fool” to use something last night, had a very believable explanation. From Yahoo:
Here’s the thing: Scherzer’s uncharacteristic head swipes? He doesn’t deny those, and they are new — an adaptation to a ban on sticky stuff that extends from strongman glue Spider Tack all the way down to the paste formed by mixing sunscreen and rosin. Pitchers, going cold turkey on everything they’ve always used to give themselves extra grip on inconsistent baseballs, are bristling at MLB’s midseason course correction, wanting commissioner Rob Manfred and the league to understand what they frame as a dilemma: Squeeze the baseball a little harder and risk injury, or stay loose and potentially fire a missile toward the batter.
“I almost put a 95 mph fastball in his head because the ball slipped out of my hand,” Scherzer said of the Bohm at-bat.
He explained that on a cool night with little sweat and nothing else available to mix with rosin, the ball felt slick and dangerous. After “eating rosin” all night licking his fingers for moisture, he started running his hands through his hair to pick up whatever sweat was there.
I don’t know the perfect option here, short of the league creating a substance that is uniform and available for everyone, that improves grip without artificially adding spin through abuse. Of course, that’s what a lot of us were saying last year when this issue started to really percolate up – perhaps that was the tack to take (no pun intended) before got to this point. Then again, MLB did issue a memo in Spring Training that this enforcement was coming. And it’s not as if a ton of pitchers aren’t still pitching just fine.
In the meantime, the checks will continue, and eventually someone maybe gets busted. But clearly, the mere threat of these checks has worked, and I just hope folks chill about going through the process. Oh, and I hope that MLB addresses the grip concerns, because I don’t want to see any pitchers’ arms blown out or batters’ heads clipped.