MLB Announces Crackdown On Foreign Substances Beginning June 21
Major League Baseball’s crackdown on pitchers applying foreign substances to the ball will begin June 21.
MLB announced Tuesday that any player who possesses or applies foreign substances to the baseball will be automatically ejected and suspended for 10 games beginning on that date. While the rule prohibiting the use of foreign substances has long been officially on the books, it has rarely been enforced throughout the game’s history.
MLB is stepping up enforcement as the increased use of stickier, artificial concoctions has created significant increases in the spin rates of fastballs and breaking balls, creating more movement on the pitches.
With the additional movement on pitches, batters are hitting just .238 this season, the lowest league-wide batting average since the mound was lowered following the 1968 season. The current 24% strikeout rate is the highest in major league history.
“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,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “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. This is not about any individual player or Club, or placing blame, it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed. We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game.”
The enforcement crackdown extends to both the major leagues and minor leagues.
Among the guidelines laid out by MLB:
- Starting pitchers will be checked multiple times per game and relievers will be checked either at the conclusion of the inning they entered or when they are removed from the game, whichever occurs first.
- If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance to the baseball (i.e. a catcher or an infielder), both the position player and pitcher will be automatically ejected and suspended.
- Catchers will also be subject to routine inspections.
- Rosin bags will remain on the back of the mound and be used, but players are prohibited from mixing rosin with sunscreen or any other substance. As part of the memo, pitchers are advised “not to apply sunscreen during night games after the sun has gone down or when playing in stadiums with closed roofs.”
- Any club employee who encourages a player to use foreign substances, including managers and coaches, will be subject to “severe” discipline that includes the possibility of being placed on the Ineligible List.
- Teams may be sanctioned for failing to educate or police their players and staff on the rules and are subject to investigation from MLB in the event of repeat violations.
Players have expressed concerns that limiting the use of substances will affect their grip on the ball and result in less control, leading to more hit batters. MLB noted in its announcement however “the evidence does not suggest a correlation between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances. In fact, the hit-by-pitch ratio has increased along with the prevalence of foreign substance use. Through May 31, the 2021 season has the highest rate of hit-by-pitches of any season in the past 100 years.”
In general, players and managers have expressed support for the crackdown.
"It’s really evolved," Angels manager Joe Maddon said last week. "It’s evolved from stuff you can buy at any pharmacy on the shelf and now it’s getting the point where it’s become a little bit more elaborate with the stuff that’s being used ... All I want as a major league manager, and any player should want, is a level playing field. I think if that’s the case, then the team that plays the best baseball that night has the best chance to win without any kind of aid. It’s no different than steroids being adjusted. It’s no different than using technology to cheat regarding stealing signs."
While pitchers applying foreign substances has long been a part of the game, the efficacy of those substances has increased dramatically over the last few seasons. A mixture of sunscreen and rosin has long been favored by pitchers, but the increased use of synthetic concoctions such as Spider Tack or Pelican Grip Dip has resulted in substantial jumps in spin rates.
"My opinion, and my opinion alone, is I think that it’s good for pitchers to have a grip," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said earlier this month. "Is that rosin, Bullfrog (sunscreen), a little bit of pine tar? Whatever it is. Whatever is fair. I think the difference is it’s one thing to get grip on a baseball, and it’s different when it turns to a competitive advantage of who has the best biochemist and who is starting to change shapes of pitches, revolutions of the baseball (and) breaks."
Maddon, who has spent more than 40 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, scout and manager, agreed that the recent use of synthetic substances is markedly different than the previous tactics used to alter the baseball, and something he feels that MLB is right to crack down on.
"Back in the day yeah, I’ve seen pitchers go out to the bench with a variety of little things in a baggie," Maddon said. "Whether it was like a little cloth with pine tar, something like an emery file, something like that. That was where it was at before, and of course (it) could cause the baseball to react in different ways, no question.
"But what is going on now is an inordinate difference. The number of spins on the baseball, the ride on the ball, is one thing, but then what’s happening to the breaking ball off of that, that’s the part that I don’t think is getting enough publicity. When you have to honor that kind of velocity and that kind of reaction on the baseball internally as a hitter, you have to be set up for that in order catch up, and then you see this other thing that pretty much is almost like a UFO the way it changes directions.
"It’s been proliferated. I’m happy we’re doing something about. All I want is a level playing field. All I’ve ever wanted is a level playing field as a manager. And I would want to believe the players want the same thing. Then your true abilities get recognized and compensated for, as opposed to some that are maybe doctored."