MLB is witnessing a pitching-dominated year. No one’s saying it aloud, but the inference is pitchers are cheating. It deserves a look.
While MLB continues to try to find ways to spruce up the game to make it more exciting for fans, pitching this year has doused any spark of a flame to that idea.
More strikeouts than hits for the third consecutive year, a line of pitchers coming out the bullpen throwing gas at 98+, hitters who continue to defy the odds trying to get “lift” on the ball with hopes of earning that big contract, baseball is in a juggernaut with no seeming way out.
By and large, major league pitchers get used to anything. To encourage offense, MLB supposedly tightened the seams on the baseball this year, but if that’s true, the factory in Haiti needs a new recipe because it ain’t working.
The natural step to explain the phenomenon this year is there must be “something else” at work here.
So it goes that the undertow in baseball is that certain pitchers are cheating by using substances in their glove that, when applied to the baseball, give them “extra grip” on the ball, which in turn enable them to deliver “extra spin,” the watchword these days, to make the ball drop, swerve, rise, and anything else you might want to do with a pitch.
MLB: First, Look At The Hitters
This is a misnomer, of course, as MLB hitters have been trying in vain to catch up with pitching for several years, all while shooting themselves in the foot trying to hit through a shift, or swinging from their heels, no matter what the count, number of outs, the score, or anything else.
Nevertheless, the accusation about cheating by pitchers is there, and it deserves a closer look.
But before we go there, let’s ask a question pertinent to the matter. Is MLB turning its head on something they know is going on, as they did during the Steroid Era when they knew it was not in the best interests of the game – and if so – why?
MLB: Does Anybody Care?
The key point in the video, of course, is, does anybody care? Although, allowing the cheating to persist would seem counterproductive to MLB’s effort to get offense (i.e., not just the almighty home run) back in the game.
So far, the answer would seem to be no, but you never know when these things can sneak up on you.
And if it does, where should MLB be looking to stop the cheaters?
We know about Gaylord Perry, who made a career out of wetting the ball with spit, and whether or not he did it, he certainly drew the attention of MLB throughout his career.
Going back decades, I also remember the “job” of a pitcher was to let the batter hit the ball. When Candy Cummings had the gall to introduce the curveball to baseball on October 7, 1867, his livelihood was nearly placed in jeopardy.
How dare he?
Pitchers: So, You Wanna Cheat?
Now, if you wanted to cheat as a pitcher today, what would be your way of doing it – without getting caught?
You can be stupid when Michael Pineda was “caught” with a visible smear of pine tar on his neck (video).
By wetness from the mouth like the old days, even if it was, that’s not what pitchers are after these days. They want and need the best grip they can get on a baseball, which in and of itself is counterproductive to “wetting” up the ball.
You can be stupid, trying that under the glare of four umpires, plus umteen cameras catching you every move you make for replays later, or you can do something that out of sight from everyone – the inside of your glove.
Therein lies the major source of complaints today (when they do occur) – that a pitcher’s glove has become his biggest weapon, because as Trevor Bauer boldly stated, “It’s Better Than Steroids.”
Now, whether it’s because it was Bauer who said it, and MLB is reluctant to pick a fight with a social media mega-star or not, the fact is life goes on in baseball.
From the pitcher’s side, it gets interesting when you see films of Ted Williams and Henry Aaron stepping up the plate with just a bat in their hands, versus today when hitters approach the plate with the full armor of Sir Galahad.
Add to that the advancement of video game at-bats, readily available to hitters nowadays, even between at-bats, enabling them to study what went wrong or right, not to mention the stacks of analytics arriving in their clubhouse every day.
Umpire Joe West Steps In
Now one of MLB’s most tenured umpires, Joe West tried something the other night when Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt reacted vociferously when his relief pitcher arrived on the mound and was promptly asked to remove his cap for inspection.
Shildt did not necessarily object to West’s action except to wonder why his pitcher was singled out, with the inference being if this were to become a common practice in MLB, he would have no objection.
Whether there is or isn’t something going on with pitchers using their glove as a way to “juice up” the ball, it behooves MLB to at least look into the matter.
MLB Takes A Swing At Cheating
Ironically, the first sign that MLB is awakening to the cancer threatening the game of baseball comes in a story published in the New York Post and other sources today.
Major league owners concluded two days of meetings Thursday with a consensus on how to increase enforcement against pitchers who are using illegal sticky substances in the game. They agreed to the following:
• Placing a greater responsibility on teams to enforce rules against doctoring the ball within their own clubs. Note: How, for example, did Michael Pineda leave the Yankees bullpen without someone saying, “Hey big guy, you can’t go out there like that”?
• Empowering umpires to check, especially caps, gloves, and uniforms, for signs of illegal substances on a pitcher. The strategy likely would be for umpires to check each pitcher as he enters the game, remove any questionable piece of uniform or equipment and provide a warning that a return of an illegal substance would lead to ejection from the game and discipline by MLB.
MLB: A Good First Step
As with anything else MLB chooses to monitor, initial guidelines, while necessary, are not meant to be everlasting. Suspension for violators needs to be spelled out, and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) needs to be in synchronized step with MLB on this.
One thing I notice, though, is the ever-increasing onus placed on umpires, who have enough to do calling balls and strikes, being position to call runner safe or out, and managing the hit-batter epidemic.
A suggestion is for MLB to employ two well-trained persons, one in each bullpen, to perform checks before the gate is opened for each game. Surely, MLB can afford this expense, and besides, even when all teams are playing, this means the addition of only 30 to the payroll.
MLB: Learning From Past Mistakes?
Perhaps learning a lesson from the Steroid Era when things got out of control, leaving Bud Selig and MLB looking foolish for not getting involved sooner, is a good first step by MLB, and it should be applauded.
One other thought comes to mind, and this applies in particular to Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, who are currently in the cheating spotlight.
Sometimes, the threat of something happening is enough to put something in the head of hitters, whether or not it (cheating) is actually occurring. In that sense, these pitchers are already winning – without cheating.
In any event, does anyone want to take a stab at the pitcher who’ll be the MLB Posterboy as the first one caught…
Here’s What Readers Are Saying…
Michael Saks I don’t believe that pitchers are cheating any more than they ever did. However, the analytics favor the pitchers. With spin rates and the depth of analytics, they are taught. It’s just ahead of the hitters.
Andrew Lorton Ball less Bob Manfred the clown needs to go. Ruining baseball to the max say the least.
Laura Craig Never knew if pitchers r cheaters but they do have a very definite advantage even more so this year
Dan Minehan Think the defensive shift has a lot to do with the low batting averages. I thought the batters would adjust, but not these days. That’s not to say some pitchers aren’t loading up, so maybe the umpires should do their job.
John Malley They also are pitching to players who refuse to make adjustments and hit against the shift which is preventing them from getting hits, the pitchers and catchers and defenders also all have cards listing how to throw to or position for every player in their hats or on their wrists. The ball is dead now too.
Thomas Cobb I feel like cracking down on this will make the hitting improve a lot. It’s unfair to have to deal with 95+ on top of the extra spin the ball has now. Let’s see what “Manfret” does besides taking these balls to Area 51 and not punishing anyone
Greg Bowalick Manfred set the precedent by doing nothing to the Asstros, how can he now punish anyone for anything?
Todd Michaelsen I find all this fascinating. MLB is TERRIBLE at preventing these kinds of problems in the 1st place. They have been reactive, not proactive and now the offense is down and it’s a pitchers league.
Kevin Nasser Mejia Carreño Who cares deGrom is elite without cheating
Boa Smith The fact is that players are bigger, taller, stronger, and throw harder than ever before. The mound is still only 60’6″ away from Home Plate. Pitchers are throwing over 100 mph. Thirty years ago, a great fastball pitcher threw at 92 mph and that was fast when compared to 30 years earlier. I doubt that Babe Ruth ever saw a fastball faster than 82 mph. The game has changed to the point where comparing stats of players today to players of yesteryear is meaningless.