General reminder up top: the use of illegal grip enhancing substances (“sticky stuff”) was rampant throughout baseball over the last half-decade, deployed to artificially improve spin rate and make pitches move unnaturally. So, MLB warned pitchers last year that more enforcement of the rules banning those substances was coming.
When umpire checks for sticky stuff kicked in back in June of last year, there was an immediate drop in spin rates across baseball. To be sure, not every pitcher was impacted, but research I saw from Eno Sarris suggested upwards of HALF the pitchers in baseball saw their spin rates drop by a statistically meaningful amount. Again, the use of sticky stuff was a pervasive issue in the sport, and enforcing the rule was probably a good idea, and it worked. For a little while.
Sarris, among others, noted that just a month or so after enforcement kicked in, however, some pitchers’ spin rates were right back up to where they’d been before the drop. While using rosin and sweat in better ways could explain some of the movement back up in spin rates, it definitely couldn’t explain it all.
In other words, for some pitchers, the issue was not “how do I pitch better without sticky stuff,” it was “how do I better avoid the sticky stuff checks by umpires.” Once they figured that part out, it seems they were good to go.
So, MLB is adjusting once again:
MLB is further cracking down on sticky stuff after pitchers found a way to start using foreign substances late last year, reports Tom Verducci https://t.co/llMDdgOLC0
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 25, 2022
Now, the checks from umpires – starting this weekend – will include not only checking gloves, hates, belts, and things like that, but also checking the actual hands of the pitcher:
In the memo to clubs obtained by Sports Illustrated, senior vice president of baseball operations Mike Hill wrote, “If an umpire’s inspection reveals that the pitcher’s hand is unquestionably sticky or shows unmistakable signs of the presence of a foreign substance, the umpire will conclude that the pitcher was applying a foreign substance to the baseball for the purpose of gaining an unfair competitive advantage.” In such a case the pitcher is ejected and suspended automatically.
Hill continued in the memo, “If an umpire observes a pitcher attempt to wipe off his hands prior to an inspection he may be subject to immediate ejection.”
Prepare yourself for some arguments and debates about how much stickiness is too much stickiness (rosin is a little tacky, for example, and that is legal). And if an umpire sees a pitcher wiping his hand? And says that was too much wiping and thus you’re ejected? Yeah, that’s gonna lead to some drama.
Remember, though: the point of announcing these rules, and having harsh consequences, is so that pitchers continue to figure out ways to pitch WITHOUT the illegal sticky substances. They’ve now had over a year of warning on this subject (the first warning came LAST offseason). I had sympathy for some pitchers last year as they were adjusting to dramatic changes in a world that MLB had created by allowing this problem to get worse and worse through inaction. But now? At this point? I’m not down with guys just trying to figure out better and better ways to cheat.
Meanwhile, there is some responsibility here on the part of MLB to improve the natural tackiness of its baseballs, which would further reduce ANY SUGGESTION by pitchers that they need a little extra substance purely for grip/safety purposes.
I imagine this is just the start of this whole conversation resuming for the start of the season, but sizable spin rate drops – and related performance issues – should be back on your radar for the purposes of player evaluation.