Watch Out for Falling Spin Rates – MLB Once Again Ramping Up Enforcement Against Sticky Substances
Sticky substances that are designed to improve pitcher spin rates are banned. That is not new. The use of foreign substances to impact the flight of the ball has been illegal for a long time now, but because “sticky” substances – it’s just for grip! – became so ubiquitous over the last decade, it kinda felt like they weren’t illegal at all. Then came the league dropping the hammer on enforcement in mid-2021. Checks by the umps. Ejections and suspensions if you’re caught. So on and so forth.
It worked for a little while, with spin rates dropping meaningfully for about 50% of pitchers after the initial wave of enforcement. But then last season, spin rates slowly started to creep back up, especially in the second half, and they were kinda back where they were before enforcement. It was fair to suspect that a lot of pitchers had figured out new methods and/or new substances.
So MLB is going to do something about it once again, warning teams that umpires are about to step things up and vary their methods:
Per an MLB memo sent to teams Thursday, and as reported by ESPN, the league has asked umpires to become less predictable with their checks, and be more assertive if they see anything fishy. From the memo:
“Umpires have been instructed to increase the frequency and scope of foreign substance checks this year, including randomized checks of fingers (including removal of rings worn on either hand of pitchers), hands, hats, gloves, belts/waistlines, and pants,” the memo states. “Pitchers may be subject to checks before or after innings in which they pitch, and managers may make inspection requests of a pitcher or position player either before or after an at-bat.”
According to the memo, umpires can focus on “suspicious behavior by players that suggests the potential use of foreign substances.”
“For example, if an umpire observes a pitcher attempting to wipe off his hands prior to an inspection the player may be subject to immediate ejection for violating the rules by attempting to conceal a foreign substance,” the memo states. “In addition, catchers will be subject to routine inspections, including checks on their equipment.”
Just like the last time, I’m sure the hope is that the THREAT of this process will be enough to curtail the re-increase in sticky stuff usage. I don’t think MLB actually wants umpires out there constantly stopping innings in progress to go check a glove, and then ejecting a bunch of pitchers (who are then subject to a 10-game suspension where they can’t even be replaced on the roster).