MLB

MLB foreign substance crack down: How the league’s enforcement of rules against doctored baseballs is working

If you’ve been paying attention to discourse surrounding Major League Baseball the last few weeks, you’ve most certainly seen a good amount of discussion regarding substances being used by pitchers. More specifically, MLB is looking to crackdown on the use of substances used to increase spin and effectiveness on pitches.

The latest reports indicate MLB‘s plan to continue its league-wide crackdown. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Sunday that some of the measures being taken include:

  • The umpires will search starting pitchers at least twice and relievers at least once during games. They can check any part of the uniform or skin showing on the players. In order to keep with pace-of-play concerns, routine checks will only be made during commercial breaks. If a pitcher is suspected of use at any time, a check could take place during the inning. If a substance is found, the pitcher will be ejected on the spot and anything with the substance on it will be taken by MLB for examination. 
  • The umps will check the gloves of position players if it is suspected they are doctoring the balls for pitchers. 

By way of reminder, Rule 6.02(c)(7) says: 

The pitcher shall not have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. 

Rule 6.02(c)(7) Comment: The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g., Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.). The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance for the purpose of Rule 6.02(c)(7), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such attachment to his hand, finger or wrist.

The league has long allowed pitchers to use things to help with the grip of the baseball and has pretty much let them do whatever they want, unless it’s over-the-top blatant, such as when Michael Pineda had a huge lump of pine tar on the side of his neck. The issue has come to the forefront due to how rampant it’s become along with statistics continuing to skew heavily in favor of the pitchers, especially with the ball having been deadened entering the 2021 season, with the goal to curb home runs. 

The recent efforts by MLB to start enforcing the rule that it had mostly stopped worrying about appears to be on course for achieving its intended effect. Travis Sawchik of The Score reports that through Saturday, 67.2 percent of MLB pitchers had a reduction in spin rate since June 3 and that 36 percent of them saw a significant reduction. The takeaway: The threat of punishment of even simply being searched seems to have deterred pitchers from continuing to use substances. Earlier this month, MLB suspended four minor league pitchers after they were caught using illegal foreign substances to doctor baseballs.

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Meantime, it’s possible offense is rising. The league batting average this season has hovered around .236. In the past week, two teams are hitting over .300, four are over .290, nine are over .270 and 14 are over .250. Through Saturday, the league was hitting .246/.318/.418 with 4.75 runs per game per team, compared to .239/.315/.397 with 4.41 runs per game per team in May. Strikeouts are slightly down, too.

The caveat, of course, is that this is an incredibly small sample and fluky things can happen in short periods of time. There also other variables in play, such as warmer weather. 

Still, it seems possible the crackdown efforts are working. Let’s hope we continue to work toward a higher batting average and more balls in play. 


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