MLB Pitching: a sticky situation

Baseball doctoring has been a hot topic lately. Hitters are voicing their concerns that the pitchers have an unfair advantage in the game by using “sticky stuff.” Josh Donaldson recently spoke about cleaning up the game. He mentioned Gerrit Cole’s spin rate decline in a start against the Rays.

“Is it coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s spin rate numbers went down (Thursday) after four minor-leaguers got suspended for 10 games?” Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP with the Blue Jays, said to reporters. “Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they’ve let guys do it.” Donaldson also said 

“it wasn’t just Cole. Other pitchers’ RPM has dropped since that report and he wasn’t intentionally trying to make Cole a poster child for this problem.”

Cole spent about 15 minutes talking about the comments. When asked if he ever used Spider Tack, the answer wasn’t the best but there was also no denial. There was really no right way to answer the question without flat out admitting or denying it.

Gerrit Cole on if he ever used Spider Tack while pitching: "I don't quite know how to answer that, to be honest…If MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, that's a conversation that we can have" pic.twitter.com/2fR1AUeOQX — Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) June 8, 2021

It is true that pitchers use practices handed down to them from generations before. We as fans tend to forget that players many years ago also used this type of stuff and are now in the Hall of Fame. Other players, like J.T. Realmuto, have spoken against the situation as well.

Pete Alonso said pitchers should use what they want because they are throwing harder and he doesn’t want a pitch slipping. He also spoke about how MLB changes the baseballs according to what class of free agents will be available next winter. He accused MLB of changing the ball to not allow hitters to do well and make money in the off-season. Just like when they juiced the baseballs that hurt pitchers from making money during the off-season.

Pete Alonso was asked if MLB is doing the right thing by cracking down on pitchers using illegal substances. His response: "Absolutely not… whatever they want to use to control the ball, let them use it." (via @SNYtv)pic.twitter.com/VdtAhs2kk5 — FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 9, 2021

4-seam RPM

Former MLB pitcher, David Cone, spoke about spin rate during the Twins series.  He said that a rise in RPM by a very high amount is what should be concerning. In the start against the Rays, Cole’s 4-seam RPM was 2,436. The spin rate prior to that game was 2,534. Only a difference of 98 RPM. In his last start, the RPM was 2,493. That is a rise of 57 RPM. Both instances were only a difference of less than 100 RPM. To be honest, the differences in those numbers are not concerning. People will still talk about it because Cole is under a magnifying glass. Every start he has will have people talking about the RPM during that game.

Fastest pitch recorded in MLB yesterday: Gerrit Cole – 100.5 MPH pic.twitter.com/crHpBLTIqW — Sequence (@SequenceJM) June 10, 2021

Juiced ball, no problem

When it was suspected that MLB “juiced” the baseballs in 2019, pitchers were told to pitch better when they complained about the change in the ball. Masahiro Tanaka had to change the grip of his splitter during the season because of the seams on the baseballs. Pitchers were using sticky stuff at that time, but the changed baseballs still gave the offense more of an advantage. Hitters weren’t complaining about an unfair playing field for everyone. Now that the ball is “deadened” the use of sticky stuff is a problem.  

Not going away

Just like with PEDs, the league has allowed this MLB pitching situation to get this far. Managers have been quiet to protect their pitchers and will continue to do so. The umpires can police every pitcher but there will always be a few that try to use it. 

When players are going to cheat, they will find ways to do it. For example, instead of the sticky stuff being on the pitcher, it can be on the catcher. Some players are still getting suspended for illegal substance use. Since 2004, players have been aware of the consequences of using illegal substances, and yet players like Robinson Cano are still getting caught.

This sticky situation is never going away. Something needs to be approved for pitchers to use. With baseball using analytics, pitchers were naturally going to find a way to add movement to their pitches. There will always be something else players use to get an advantage in the game. Baseball is a game of adjustments and players will adjust as the game goes on.

This Gerrit Cole staredown of Josh Donaldson after striking him out is epic. Donaldson recently said he would be exposing all of the pitchers who are using foreign substances to pitch and susequently singled out Cole. pic.twitter.com/fr5MhDLtSn — Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) June 10, 2021

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