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In an attempt to lessen the use by pitchers of foreign substances on balls, MLB is notifying clubs that it will begin using its Statcast data to analyze increases in spin rate, specifically for pitchers suspected of doctoring baseballs, The Post has learned.
Manipulating the baseball by changing its structure with a nick or cut or by using substances that change the trajectory of pitches is as old as the game. Nevertheless, in recent years the analytic wave has increased awareness of the benefit of spin to make fastballs ride better and breaking pitches break more.
That has led to pitchers using various forms of sticky substances that help foster more revolutions per minute on their offerings. This is against rule 6.02 on doctoring the baseball. But for years a gentlemen’s agreement existed not to challenge a pitcher, namely because so many were doing it that to challenge an opponent was to risk having your pitchers challenged as well. Also, even hitters were generally in favor of pitchers using something sticky, especially with slick balls in cold weather, to better control them and avoid those hitters being hit by pitches.
But an increase of velocity and breaking-ball usage has been instrumental in strikeout-per-game records being set annually for the last decade and a half. That in turn has led to greater desire to hit homers because it has become so hard to string hits together. That also fosters more walks as pitchers try to miss bats. And MLB is now trying to counter the ever-rising three true outcomes (strikeouts, walks and homers) to get more balls in play and more action.
In February 2020, The Post reported that then MLB senior vice president Chris Young (now the Rangers GM) was visiting camps to say that MLB would be cracking down on the use of foreign substances. But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and MLB had more pressing issues to monitor.
But a memo to teams was planned for this week with the league saying it is back on the case of try to dissuade foreign-substance usage. MLB’s Statcast system allows the tracking of every pitch — its velocity, spin, and movement. MLB intended to use the data to compare with both career norms and in game to see if, say, a slider suddenly had more revolutions with runners on second and third in the sixth inning than with no one on in the first.
This could have seismic impact. There are those who believe that some organizations have worked to develop substances to help entire staffs improve their stuff and that removal could lead to significant decline in performance. In 2018, Trevor Bauer theorized the Astros were doing exactly that. In a February 2020 segment on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Bauer estimated 70 percent of pitchers used a sticky substance and that the impact was greater than steroid use.
Two members of that Astros staff, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, were named in a defamation lawsuit by a fired Angels clubhouse manager, Bubba Harkins, who claimed he was scapegoated for supplying a ball-doctoring concoction to opposing pitchers. The suit was dismissed in Orange County Superior Court in January.
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