On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced plans to begin cracking down on pitchers using illegal substances on the mound. A response from the league has been expected since Sports Illustrated’s expose of the issue earlier this month.
Pitchers found using illegal substances on the mound will be subject to 10-day suspensions, according to a memo sent out by the league. Unlike most suspensions, teams will not be able to place that player on the active roster, meaning the club is punished as much as the individual. Team staff encouraging the use of illegal substances may also be placed on the league’s ineligible list.
In order to monitor the situation, umpires will check starting pitchers multiple times during games, according to the league. Relief pitchers will be checked after innings and upon removal from games, and may be checked at other instances as well.
Any pitcher can be checked upon request from the opposing team. Catchers will also be checked. Players who refuse to be checked “will be presumed to have violated the rules, resulting in an ejection from the game and a suspension,” per the league memo.
The league isn’t just cracking down on the stronger substances, such as Spider Tack. Even something like sunscreen, which when mixed with rosin can help the pitcher better grip the baseball without heavily impacting spin rate, is under the microscope. In fact, the league is advising pitchers to not wear sunscreen unless necessary.
Players will have time to adjust to these new procedures – the changes won’t go into effect until June 21. As part of the announcement, the league included the following statement from commissioner Rob Manfred.
“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field. I understand there’s a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before. It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else — an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field.”
Some pitchers have already spoken out against the changes. Carlos Rodon of the White Sox compared it to the league’s handling of the Astros cheating scandal, while Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow, a Cy Young candidate, blamed a recent elbow injury on having to adjust how he was pitching mid-season.
Despite the objections, even the threat of a crackdown seems to be having the desired effect across the league. At the start of June, the leaguewide batting average was in the .230s. Only three times in history has the league failed to hit .240 – in 1888, 1908, and 1968. Yet in the weeks since SI’s report, pitchers’ spin rates have gone down, and overall offensive production has increased. As baseball continues to search for a comfortable balance between hitting and pitching, this remains a situation to watch.