Monday, July 26, 2021

MLB Releases Memo Outlining Crackdown Measures on Sticky Stuff & Foreign Substances Used by Pitchers

Major League Baseball has provided guidance to all 30 Clubs today that, effective with games beginning on June 21st, enhanced enforcement of Official Baseball Rules 3.01.

Today, Major League Baseball released a memo outlining new measures that will be put in place that will create an enforcement mechanism of an existing rule prohibiting the use of foreign substances by pitchers.

According to the memo, MLB cites that there is “evidence suggesting that eliminating the use of foreign substances will only enhance batter safety.” The memo goes on to state that the “number of HBP’s actually has increased as use of substances has become more prevalent.”

The league has outlined its plans to penalize all players caught by the umpires with any foreign substance on them, from the widely used sunscreen-and-rosin combination to “Spider Tack,” an industrial glue that has become a go-to among pitchers who want to generate more spin on the baseball.

From the memo: “Creating a consistent enforcement system that applies equally to all Clubs and players requires a clear policy without exceptions,” Michael Hill, MLB’s Senior Vice President, On-Field Operations, said. “We have learned through our research that the more traditional substances can be used for competitive advantage just like the more modern substances, and it is not practical for umpires to differentiate on the field. The new guidance issued today will put everyone on a level playing field.”

“As part of our information gathering effort, we have solicited feedback from players, coaches and front office personnel around the game,” Raul Ibañez, MLB’s Senior Vice President, On-Field Operations, said. “All of us involved in the game care deeply about providing a level and safe playing field for the players.”

“Major League Umpires stand in support of this initiative to eliminate the use of foreign substances in the game,” Major League Umpire Bill Miller, President of the Major League Umpires Association, said. “The integrity of the competition is of utmost importance to us. We have worked diligently with MLB to develop an enforcement system that will treat all players and Clubs equally.”

What is interesting to note is the lack of comment by the Major League Players Association President. However, Washington Nationals Ace Max Scherzer who plays a outspoken role with the Players Union, addressed the situation when asked during a pre-game press conference before yesterdays Nationals – Pirates game. Scherzer said when asked: “We understand it’s gone beyond just pine tar, that there’s been bad actors throughout the game. Teams have been bad actors in this, in trying to find ways to create substances that are beyond just pine tar to try to actually influence spin rate, instead of trying to use a substance to keep the ball from slipping out of the pitcher’s hands. In a lot of players’ minds, there’s a big difference between the two. “Our hitters, the Nationals’ hitters, want pitchers to use substances for tack. We don’t want to see balls flying at our heads. Point in case: Austin Voth. He’s got a broken nose. You can look at him every single day right now and think: Do we want more of that, or less of that?”

New Enforcement Measures issued by Major League Baseball

Here are some of the ways in which MLB plans on enforcing the rule, which not only apply to pitchers but to catchers also.

  • Umpires have been instructed to perform checks periodically throughout the game of all starting and relief pitchers on both teams, regardless of whether they suspect a violation of the rules.
  • Starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory check per game, and each relief pitcher must be checked either at the conclusion of the inning in which he entered the game or when he is removed from the game, whichever occurs first. In general, inspections will be conducted between innings or after pitching changes to avoid a delay of the game and to allow the umpire to perform a thorough check, including the hat, glove, and fingertips of the pitcher.
  • Catchers will also be subject to routine inspections. Umpires will also inspect a position player if they observe conduct consistent with the use of a foreign substance by the pitcher. Position players will not be ejected for having a foreign substance on their glove or uniform unless the umpire determines that the player was applying the substance to the ball in order to aid the pitcher.
  • Rosin bags on the mound may be used in accordance with the rules. All substances except for rosin are prohibited per the Playing Rules that clearly state players cannot “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball” and may not “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance.” Players may not intentionally combine rosin with other substances (e.g., sunscreen) to create additional tackiness or they risk ejection and suspension. Pitchers have been advised not to apply sunscreen during night games after the sun has gone down or when playing in stadiums with closed roofs. To ensure standardization of the rosin bag, Clubs must submit the rosin bag along with the game balls to be reviewed by the umpires before the start of each game.
  • Umpires may perform a check at any time during the game when the umpire notices the baseball has an unusually sticky feel to it, or when the umpire observes a pitcher going to his glove, hat, belt, or any other part of his uniform or body to retrieve or apply what may be a foreign substance.

Disciplinary Action by Major League Baseball if a Player or Staff member is Caught

The memo also outlines disciplinary action if a player or staff is caught in violation of the rule:

  • A player who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the Playing Rules will be immediately ejected from the game and suspended. The umpiring crew shall be the sole judge as to whether the rules have been violated. The use of foreign substances is not subject to challenge using the replay review system.
  • Although the foreign substance prohibitions do not apply exclusively to pitchers, however the pitcher ultimately will be responsible for any ball that is delivered with a foreign substance on it. If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance to the baseball (e.g., the catcher applies a foreign substance to the baseball before throwing it back to the pitcher), both the position player and pitcher will be ejected and automatically suspended.
  • Club personnel who help players to use foreign substances, handle foreign substances, mask player use of foreign substances, interfere with collections of baseballs, or otherwise fail to report such violations of the Playing Rules, will be subject to fines and/or suspension by the Commissioner.

There has been an increased spotlight on this issue since umpire Joe West forced St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos to remove his hat May 26 and saw that the pitcher was using “sticky stuff” in violation of Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c), which bans the use of foreign substances, including grip agents.  

Since the league wide crackdown of enforcement of the rule, the league wide batting average has seen a substantial jump from .236 to .247, and in contrast, the league wide spin rate on fastballs has seen a substantial decrease.

The use of foreign substances isn’t a new debate in baseball and dates back to well over a century ago; however, this issue has re-surfaced because of modern technology and the increased attention to spin rates.  

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