Leave it to baseball to get itself in a sticky situation, just as interest in the sport is on an upswing. Puns intended. MLB notified teams this week about how it will be enforcing and cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances on the baseball. Starting Monday pitchers will be subject to random checks and could face ejections, fines and suspensions if found with a substance on the ball or their glove.
Teams were notified in Spring Training, but MLB didn’t seem to be in a rush to actually reprimand anyone. Until now. Nearly 3 months into the season baseball all of the sudden will be suspending pitchers for 10 games (with pay) if they are found to be doctoring the ball. A bit of an overreaction? Yes. Considering, as many players have pointed out, the hypocritical nature of the mandate, by a league that didn’t even suspend one single Houston Astros player for actually cheating the game.
Even worse, now umpires like Joe West, who doesn’t need a further spotlight shone on him, will be the ones looking to enforce the rules. West already overreacted to a Cardinals pitcher entering a game with a hat that looked worn and appeared to have something on it. Cardinals' manager Mike Schildt was ejected for arguing with West. The only thing that resulted was the pitcher had to change hats. This is unfortunately shades of things to come. Umpires have already had an awful year enforcing actual rules of the game. See Marty Foster’s created, made up “interference” call or Angel Hernandez’s strike zone during a game. Ugh.
Rays’ pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who pitched against the White Sox Monday and left with an elbow injury thinks the impending enforcement led to his malady. He told reporters via Zoom, “I switched my fastball grip and my curveball grip. I had to put my fastball deeper into my hand and grip it way harder. Instead of holding my curveball at the tip of my fingers, I had to dig it deeper into my hand.” Glasnow said.
|Tyler Glasnow (MLB.com)|
Glasnow also echoed a sentiment shared by many pitchers in baseball. "Do it in the offseason. Give us a chance to adjust to it. But I just threw 80 innings, then you tell me I can't use anything in the middle of the year. I have to change everything I've been doing the entire season. I'm telling you I truly believe that's why I got hurt."
The point being made by MLB is strikeouts are up and it’s because of the pitcher’s spin rates are up. Power numbers are still there, as the White Sox Dallas Keuchel pointed out after last night’s game. Is it possible that as baseball has evolved over the last decade plus, the taboo of the strikeout by a hitter has all but vanished? It’s possible that pitchers have managed to figure out weak spots in a hitter’s game, with all the video and heat maps that are available to them now.
According to a chart in the Baseball Almanac, in 2000 the combined strikeout numbers between the AL and NL was 31,356. In 2019 the number soared to 42,823. There has definitely been more attention paid to “StatCast” numbers from MLB, which focus on launch angle, exit velocity, spin rates and strike out rates more than most other stats. This to me is more of an explanation to the increased numbers, because organizations aren’t looking at strikeouts as a bad thing. That message is being conveyed in the minors and younger players are learning as they go through the system to accept the “K” as a necessary evil.
Don’t misunderstand me, altering a baseball should be illegal. Pitchers caught with substances like sandpaper, spider tack and cutting the ball, deserve the punishment. Those that are using, rosin (there’s a rosin bag on the mound for each pitcher, it’s right there to see for everyone) and sunscreen, to me, aren’t doing anything put ensuring a grip on a baseball. The ball itself has been manipulated by MLB over the years, that more and more pitchers had to use substances. When the league decided using a “superball” a couple of years ago, pitchers would say they couldn’t feel the seams. Pitching is all about feel and touch on the baseball. With the live arms in the game now, routinely hitting 95+ mph, I’m not sure I’d like to face a guy throwing that hard with no control or feel of the baseball.
Baseball looked the other way during the “Steroid Era” because fans loved watching home runs being hit. Pitchers suffered because of the amounts of long balls being hit and as a result, they were looking for the equalizer. Now that the pitchers have a bit of an edge this season, baseball is choosing to overreact and enforce rules in the middle of a season. So, what if players were stealing bases at a record pace, would MLB eliminate leadoffs midseason? Let the players, play the game. Hitters worth their salt, don’t care what a pitcher is using on a baseball, they’re going to hit it eventually. Stop tinkering with the game already MLB, what’s next, home run derby instead of extra innings? Oh wait, they’re already experimenting with that. See what I mean?