MLB just can’t seem to strike a happy chord with players and fans these days. Did MLB shoot itself in the foot with sticky stuff?
Major League Baseball (MLB) was faced with a runaway year by pitchers dominating hitters to the point where if you check the Top Ten Batting Leaders in the National League, the tenth player listed (Jake Cronenworth) is batting a mere .281.
Confronted by both players and fans, each with separate agendas, MLB was forced to do something to inject more base hits and fewer strikeouts into the game.
Rumors about pitchers using “sticky stuff” to achieve a better grip on the ball, which in turn increased spin rates and wildly effective breaking balls, have been in and out of baseball news for more than a year.
Accordingly, Jacob deGrom took centerstage yesterday afternoon to become MLB’s first “umpire searched” pitcher after retiring the side in the first inning of the Mets-Braves game at Citi Field.
Reportedly, deGrom casually asked the umpire, “What do you want from me”? to which the umpire said, “Cap, glove, and belt.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and deGrom returned to his usual lights-out performance for a win.
Tonight, the scene shifts to Yankees Stadium, where Gerrit Cole, the new MLB poster boy for sticky stuff, starts for the Yankees. Don’t expect any drama here either.
There was plenty of drama in Philadelphia last night as Phillies manager tangled with Nationals ace Max Scherzer. The video explains itself, but note that we can expect more incidents of this kind.
With more than a week’s notice from MLB that searches would become commonplace, a pitcher would have to be a complete moron to try anything now, and probably for the rest of the season.
But that’s not the point, though, because pitchers are in rebellion against the mid-season rule change, and they appear to have medical science backing them.
The issue is this. By doing away with the sticky stuff, pitchers need to compensate to maintain a good grip on the ball.
To accomplish this requires using other hand and arm muscles that, to date, have not been in use, thereby increasing the chance of injury.
Tyler Glasnow, who freely admits to using the now-banned substances, and was well on his way to a second-place finish behind deGrom in this year’s Cy Young voting, has been more than vocal in blaming (“I’m choking the s— out of my pitches.”) the rule change on a likely season-ending injury he suffered in his first start without the sticky stuff.
From an article published in today’s New York Daily News, we hear from David Altchek, who is a doctor. Specifically, a surgeon at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgeries who, by his own estimation, has performed around 1,500 Tommy John operations since 1988. And Altchek thinks Glasnow’s theory sounds totally plausible.
“I have no reason to argue with him,” Altchek said. “He changed something and then hurt his elbow. That’s scary, I don’t like how that sounds.”
An expanded explanation comes from Jimmy Buffi, a former physics and biomechanics analyst for the Dodgers:
MLB Hears It From All Sides
It’s not only pitchers who are upset with MLB’s latest rule change because batters are chiming in too, although from a different perspective.
Imagine stepping into the batter’s box to face a 101mph fastball from Jacob deGrom or any one of a hundred pitchers who regularly reach that mark these days – without some assurance; the pitcher has a good grip on a pitch that won’t come sailing towards your head.
MLB hitters do it every day because their livelihood requires it. Still, is the new rule change increasing the chance of more wayward balls, like the one that shattered Kevin Pillar‘s face a few weeks ago?
Much like the one about arm injuries increasing, that question can’t be answered now, and only time will tell as more data is compiled.
But if Glasnow and his supporting doctors are correct, hasn’t MLB done a disservice to the game by introducing a change of this magnitude midseason?
Consider, for example, the impact of Galsnow’s loss on the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that suddenly went into a tailspin that hasn’t yet abated.
MLB can, and they probably will, if confronted with the anomaly, spin it to their advantage by claiming baseball is better for the AL East race tightening up, but really?
MLB: So, Now What?
MLB must know that at some point soon, it must answer these charges and complaints.
Reportedly, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has succeeded in their pleas to “talk about this” with RobManfred and his gang at MLB, but here’s the rub.
How does MLB change horses again in the mainstream without admitting they were wrong in the first place? If it happens, it’ll be a first, and we can only be assured that Manfred is missing from the stage if and when an announcement is made.
The other crack in the wall is the expiring Owner/Player agreement in December that raises the question of how far the players are willing to go with an issue that, potentially, will leave an egg on the face of MLB, adding pressures to future talks for MLB to “get a win.”
Clearly, though, the uproar is sufficient enough that MLB has to do something, and it can’t sit still, waiting for the next pitcher and team of doctors to blame an injury on the rule change.
MLB: Isn’t The Resin Bag Enough?
Ironically, pitchers still have and have always used a foreign substance to maintain a grip on the ball – it’s called the resin bag – and it usually sits untouched behind the mound all game.
From my pitching days, I can say it works, and in fact, I often felt it to be too much, causing late releases of the ball from my hand.
But therein may lie a solution in the form of compromise that allows MLB to continue its current rule, with a tweak of the resin bag.
Interestingly though, Max Scherzer, one of the stars in the above video, said after the game that he was “sick and tired of the awful taste left in his mouth” after licking his fingers (allowed) to get a better grip on the ball.
Maybe a tweak of the rubbing mud that is applied by MLB to all balls used in a game will do the trick.
Perhaps, adding a touch of sunscreen, another favorite of pitchers, to the resin bag will satisfy the need, or perhaps more resin – whatever – it might be worth a try.
Hey, How About Us – The Fans
Regrettably, the matter is charged with politics, and each side (MLB vs. Players) sees this as a win or lose situation, while I could care either way as a fan.
All I want is a level playing field with games every night, the best players on the field and not the IL, and a box score to peruse in the morning.
C’mon boys (players and MLB) – make it happen.
Postscript: 6:50 PM Et 6/22/2021
Tom Verducci on MLB Tonight: Averages are up by eleven points since the new rule was instituted,
Here’s What Readers Are Saying…
Mark Kanter No. I’ve been a fan for 55 years. I don’t care. I just want to watch the game. Players can do what they want to gain an edge. I’m all for that. I mean, the New York Yankees used to plunder the KC A’s to get talent. BS has been going on in MLB for a long time.
Chris Rader There would have been fewer issues had the problem not been ignored for so long.
James Lopresti No because they don’t care about fans and their players, they just wanna have anything to use against the players for the cba and save money
Boris Medich MLB did it before with steroids, let it go, and then blamed players when it got out of control. The same thing is happening now….
John Casale Did anybody ever consider the fact that part of the pitcher’s struggles has been a result of not being able to get a good grip on the ball? Pitchers have been looking for ways to get a better grip for DECADES. A baseball, in general, is rather slick, so yeah something to help with the grip might be a good thing. This isn’t softball. It’s not supposed to be easy for hitters to crush the ball like it’s the HR Derby. With small strike zones, stringent rules on pitching inside, tiny ballparks, and juiced balls, how many advantages do hitters need to have?
Glen Morreale NO it has moved in the right direction in making the game more competitive!!!
Steven Kenworthy Pitchers have “maintained” a good grip on the ball forever. Now suddenly when MLB gets worried about its offensive stagnation, we need the umpires to slow the game down even more. And here I thought we were looking to pick up the pace…
Salvatore F. Salamone MLB leadership is always a day late and a dollar short. Unlike other sports, they always overreact after the fact, thereby making a bigger mess. Can the rich owners and their minions finally get their acts together and manage a situation correctly? Apparently not.
Manish Sharma Pitchers have been pine tar for years to get a better grip. They should let pitchers use a bit of pine tar, and nothing else, no funny stuff like Spider Tack or boiled coke. That’s the best course of action in my opinion.
Arlene Virga There are all types of sport equipment enhancers. (Not talking drugs) – special shoes, equipment, special bats, gloves, grips, etc. I am not opposed to a pitcher being able to grip the ball as best he can. Maybe the sticky stuff can save some arms too.
Steven Red Cano Why don’t they do this? Instead of random checks. A team can use one of their “challenges” if THEY suspect a pitcher cheating and if they ask for a challenge and umpires find nothing (both catcher and pitchers are checked) that team loses their challenge and cannot use in-game for a replay. Thoughts?
Ryan Ventura Yes and No. Did you notice offensive numbers going up? Sticky stuff had something to do with it. You do want good relationships and baseball stinks at it. They are not proactive. They wait until something happens to fix it. In other words, look the other way until it causes problems
Comments are overwhelming the capacity for this post, and therefore I cannot publish more. Judge for yourself but readers appear to have more and better ideas than we see coming from MLB. (Steve Contursi)