Tuesday, June 22, 2021

MLB’s impending crackdown on foreign substances

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Bauer continued:

“[I]If you are going to enforce it, enforce it. And if not, stop sweeping it under the rug, which is what [MLB has] done for four years. … No one knows what the rules are at the moment, apparently, including MLB and the commissioner, so it would be nice as players to know what rules we are competing by and what rules are going to be enforced because, as everyone knows, a written rule that is never applied is not a rule. “

It should be noted again that the substances in question go far beyond the historically accepted use of substances such as rosin, sunscreen, and even pine tar. Hitters have generally not minded that pitchers use minor substances to improve their grip and gain better control of their pitches. Hitters regularly face fast fastballs of 95-102 mph in today’s game, after all; It stands to reason that they want pitchers to be able to catch the ball on wet days. But in the last two weeks, we’ve seen several veteran hitters: Donaldson, Charlie blackmon other Adam duvall among them, they express frustration at the level to which the use of foreign substances has progressed.

The spin speed revolution has brought with it much more powerful substances like pitchers and, more importantly, as MLB teams and headquarters, they have realized how a higher spin creates greater efficiency in the field. mound. Readers Who Didn’t See Last Week’s comprehensive and excellent piece of Stephanie Apstein from Sports Illustrated, where she writes that some teams have gone so far as to hire chemists whose responsibilities include (but are not limited to) developing proprietary substances for pitchers, she absolutely should review her column in its entirety. Britt Ghiroli from Athletic He also wrote a stellar exploration of the topic this week, writing that some smarter teams have begun distributing sticky substances to pitchers in their lower minor league levels, to avoid a sudden spike in the spin rate when they reach the majors.

The large increase in the four-seam spin rate has undoubtedly been a contributing factor, though not the only factor, in the league-wide strikeout rally and general offensive discomfort that has overtaken MLB thus far in 2021. The league average batting line in MLB right now is historically weak .237 / .313 / .396, and even removing pitchers from the equation, that line rises to just .241 / .317 /. 403. This year’s 23.5 percent strikeout rate among non-pitchers is an all-time high. Consider that even five years ago, the MLB average line was .259 / .326 / .425 with a strikeout rate of 20.6 and that a decade ago, in 2011, the average hitter contributed a bar of .260 / .331 / .410 with a much lower punchout rate of 18 percent.

Lack of offense and lack of action in the game has been an ongoing problem that Commissioner Rob Manfred has repeatedly cited as an element of the game that he would like to improve. However, MLB has done essentially nothing to curb the growing prevalence of foreign substances used by pitchers, instead focusing on other rule changes – for example, batter minimums for relievers, runners in second in additional innings, limiting visits to the mounds, etc. one that has been in place for a long time but has been overlooked.

The advent of high-octane grip enhancers isn’t necessarily a new revelation. Eno Sarris He has written several pieces on the matter in The Athletic. Famous farmer performed a one-entry “experiment” – hat tip for then-FanGraphs scribe Travis Sawchik – to increase his own spin speed for one frame in 2018 after not-so-subtly calling out Cole, his former varsity teammate, for his huge increase in speed of turn after a trade from Pittsburgh to Houston.

But there are very likely other elements that have been paired with the increasing prevalence of Spider Tack, Pelican Grip, and any number of other substances that have prompted hitters to start talking. Major League Baseball apparently sought to correct the increasingly pitcher-friendly nature of the sport by changing the makeup of baseball in 2019. Manfred and league officials, of course, never admitted to such tactics, but a myriad of independent studies that were published. Changes in the composition of the ball were revealed in various all-out media, at a time that coincided with MLB’s decision to take over production oversight from Rawlings.

Evidence of the 2019 changes to the ball was felt even more at the Triple-A level, where an already explosive offensive environment, particularly in the Pacific Coast League, exploded to new heights as Triple-A games adopted the use of the same ball used. at the MLB level. Home run records in 2019 were broken; Both the Twins and Yankees broke a team’s all-time home run record for a single season, with the Minnesota “Bomba Squad” narrowly outscoring the Bronx Bombers.

In February it was reported that the league had informed teams that it had now taken steps to swing the pendulum in the other direction, so to speak, altering the weight of the ball and the height of the seams to slow the growing number of players. home runs. Meanwhile, various clubs began storing baseballs in humidors before their games.

The extent to which those measures have affected this year’s plague of offensive ineptitude cannot be known, but it’s hard to assume that the offense shortage is merely a coincidence given those changes and the increasing use of foreign substances. There have already been seven no-hitters this season; I choose to count Madison bumgarnerthe seven-entry no-no; He posted as many outs as possible, and it’s not his fault the game is down to seven frames, and the no-hitter offers that last through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings seem to happen multiple times a week.

It’s natural for hitters to hit a breaking point on this issue. Their salaries are determined by their ability to perform at the plate, and rampant circumventing an unenforced rule can only go so far without pushback from those most adversely affected. That said, it’s also worth noting that while everyone has turned a blind eye to this issue, the teams themselves could start to pay the price.

Cole and Bauer are going to be the two most talked about examples, which is somewhat unfair to them given the widespread adoption of this practice, but they are also prominent data points on this topic for a reason. The Yankees paid Cole the largest contract ever awarded to a pitcher: nine years and $ 324 million. The Dodgers gave Bauer the highest one-season salary of any player in MLB history not only in 2021 but also in 2022. Would those same commitments have been made if MLB had enforced its foreign substance rules years ago, instead of further complicating the problem? playing with the ball itself (and perhaps overcorrecting in 2021)?

Other teams have made significant financial commitments to pitchers that they will now have to meet for years to come, perhaps at a time when one of the biggest factors behind their success is now something the league suddenly intends to take seriously for. first time under the current commissioner. Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times recently gave his opinion that the Dodgers may not be getting the pitcher they thought they were paying for with Bauer, but Bauer himself correctly pointed to 2018, when his spin rate was noticeably lower and he dominated for the Indians, as a point in his favor. (That, in itself, would seem to be another tacit admission of his own foray into foreign substance use.)

But Bauer and Cole are just two pitchers, and if there is indeed widespread recognition of tasteless substances on the horizon, other names will inevitably come into the spotlight, even if they simply agreed on an issue the league had. said indirectly. they did not consider them serious enough for the police. ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes that the average four-seam turning speed in MLB has increased by 79 rpm since 2015, while the average rpm for sliders, curve balls and cutters has increased by a measure of between 200 and 350 per pitch.

That average can also be misleading; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes notes that Bauer’s average spindle speed of 2,438 rpm in 2018 (before his peak) classified 11th at the time, but I would rank only 27 in 2021. (Similarly, Bauer’s 2,322-rpm average four-seam fastball in 2018 classified 24, but that mark Go ahead only 61 this season). The most aggressive adopters of foreign substances have benefited to an increasingly disproportionate level.

Time will tell how strongly MLB will enact its new application of a long-standing rule. Some pitchers are likely to cut the act at this point, and while a drop in their spin rate may be revealing, they will simply be seen as participants in a trend that has spread across the league. Still others may try to find more creative ways to cover their substance use, particularly if MLB disciplinary measures prove timid. For now, there will be plenty of eyes on Wednesday night’s Donaldson / Cole showdown and likely a big spike in traffic at Baseball Savant as the focus on turning speed shoots to new heights.

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