Sticky Stuff 101 – The whole lot You Must Know When the MLB crackdown on international substances begins

7:00 p.m. ET

  • Alden Gonzalez

    Shut downESPN staff writer

    • With ESPN since 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
    • Had previously covered the angels for MLB.com
  • Jesse Rogers

    Shut downESPN staff writer

      Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009, serving MLB for ESPN.com.

Starting with Monday’s games, pitchers will be ejected and suspended for using illegal foreign substances to treat baseballs as Major League Baseball steps up enforcement of an area that has been talked about about baseball for the past few weeks.

But the start of the MLB crackdown raises as many questions about how it works as it does answers to an issue that has led to high strikeout rates and much debate across the sport. How will the referees proceed with conducting pitcher investigations during games? What if a gamer is caught? How differently do pitchers and hitters think about the steps that are taken? And how much of an impact will all of this have on the product we see in the field?

To get you up to speed with the start of a new chapter in baseball, we asked ESPN MLB experts Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers to provide an FAQ breakdown on how cracking down on foreign substances is affecting the MLB .

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How will the referees enforce the MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances during games?

Rogers: Pitcher will be checked after innings and / or after the game has ended. If they do something suspicious during an at-bat, they can also be checked between the batters. Your hat, glove and belt will be examined while the rest of the uniform is also in play if the umpires deem it necessary. The only exception after the exam is for Closer. They are inspected before they are set up in order to avoid uncomfortable moments when leaving. The umpires will be on the lookout for anything that feels or looks slippery or sticky.

González: And that’s one of the many elements that is fascinating about it. The league did not want to face the difficulty of retrospectively suspending players based on findings from inspected baseballs, which would undoubtedly have sparked a litany of objections. Referees, the league believes, must be the enforcers. Maybe like this. But this challenges many of these arbitrators who are already under such close scrutiny with the upcoming automated strike zone. When a pitcher has to quit because he has been caught with a foreign substance, it is the referees who hear it from coaches, players and fans, even though they are only following the intentions of the league.

What if someone is caught with a substance that violates the regulations?

Rogers: He is immediately excluded and suspended for 10 days against payment. The team cannot replace the player in the squad.

González: The memo sent to the teams stated that repeat offenders were subject to “harder, more progressive discipline”, although it is unclear what this might actually be.

How will this affect positional players?

Rogers: If you behave suspiciously while visiting a pitcher on the hill, you can also be checked by the referees. Many infielder – especially in the colder months – have a grip booster, just like a pitcher. Unless they help their own pitcher, they are unlikely to be sampled. When a positional player comes to pitch he may need to change gloves.

Why does this start on June 21st, two months after the season starts?

Rogers: MLB wanted to collect data before putting down the hammer. The league says it saw more evidence of sticky stuff on baseballs than it originally imagined. Strikeouts are way up while strike averages have continued to decline. The impending crackdown appears to be having an effect as June was a better month for balls in the game, though warmer weather may also play a role in offensive improvements.

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González: This suddenness still irritates me. This could have been done so much more smoothly, either by waiting until the upcoming offseason so the pitchers could properly prepare to throw the baseball without anything at it, or by warning them of an impending raid before the final offseason. The league has known for years that this has become a serious problem as pitchers venture outside of suntan lotion and pine tar to maximize spin rate. Why not push this earlier so that players had months to adjust instead of forcing them to have a cold turkey in the middle of the season? Many pitchers have asked themselves this question.

How do these sticky substances help jugs?

González: The better the grip, the more spin can be created with breakballs and fastballs with four seams, the latter using spin to create the “ascending” illusion and thus create swings and misses. Four-seam fastballs have essentially replaced the sinkers in the modern game, which makes the use of sticky substances all the more common. Trevor Bauer carried out experiments on this route back in 2018 when he found that an additional stick triggered an increase of between 200 and 300 revolutions per minute at 90 mph fastballs.

But that’s just one part of the story.

The other aspect of this is that the surface of major league baseball has proven to be uneven and at times extremely difficult to grasp. The memo to the teams states that “the rosin provided on the hill … alone is enough to address serious concerns about grip and control.” But that goes against what I’ve heard from several pitchers who say that the balls are often dusty and chalky – especially if a few days have passed since rubbing – and are too difficult to grip without a stickier substance.

The league’s plan had been to develop a unitary substance that the baseballs could be rubbed off before the game to replace the mud that had been used since the mid-20th century. Tackling everything before it is implemented has predictably angered many pitchers.

What impact will this have on the games that start this week?

Rogers: It is questionable whether players will be banned and banned immediately. Too much attention is being paid to the subject at the moment. But we may see some elite pitchers look a little different than they did before. That could mean reducing spin rates and increasing hard contact – or just more contact in general. League executives would be delighted to see a further reduction in strikeouts.

González: Perhaps it is already beginning to have an effect. On June 5, our own buster Olney reported that major league referees would begin strictly enforcing the use of foreign matter within weeks. At this point the league-wide slash line was 0.237 / 0.312 / 0.396 and the strikeout rate was 24.2%. Over the next 14 days, the league-wide slash line increased to 0.248 / 0.320 / 0.416 while the strikeout rate decreased to 23%. It is important to note, however, that the offensive usually increases as the weather warms up. But the average RPM in four-seam fastballs was 2,316 from April 1 to June 5 and 2,260 from June 6 to June 14. It normally takes 150 to 200 RPM drops to really notice a difference in a baseball’s behavior. But that was by far the lowest two-week spin rate this year, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research.

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Gerrit Cole expresses frustration at problems with baseball after MLB tried to regulate foreign substances.

What do the pitchers say about the raid?

Rogers: It depends who you are talking to. For obvious reasons, those who say they are not using anything are all for the raid – think soft throwers and sinkerball artists. Others wholeheartedly oppose banning the more innocent uses of sunscreen and even pine tar, claiming they need it for hold. Then there’s Tyler Glasnow who says he didn’t use anything on his last start that resulted in his injury and will lead to others. Many pitchers agree that the league should have waited for the off-season.

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González: The pitchers I’ve spoken to are surprised that the League has put those who use pine tar or suntan lotion in the same group as those who use over-the-top grip enhancers like Spider Tack or Pelican Grip Dip, as the League – and theirs Thugs – having done this historically, the former group turned a blind eye. Perhaps the league thought it would be too difficult for referees to make such a distinction during games. But even this plan has potential negative repercussions, and one has to wonder if Glasnow will be the last to blame the league’s sudden enforcement strategy for an injury.

What do thugs say about cracking down?

Rogers: Many are for it, but some have a soft spot for sunscreen users. When hit-by-pitches rise above their current level, you will see a cry for help – possibly from pitchers and hitters. Good grip helps pitchers control. That is the argument that has been made in the past and will continue to be made. The data could support it.

González: However, this will undoubtedly help the hitters gain some advantage, and they will be happy to take it, considering how much advantage pitchers have gained through the analysis. In the words of Justin Turner, a 13 year old veteran and player rep, “All we want is a fair playing field across the board so that everyone has an equal opportunity. Whatever the league had to do – as long as it’s fair and it’s across the board and it’s the same for everyone, I think that’s the main goal here. “

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