Baseball Hall of Famer is thrilled to see crackdown on Spider Tack
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As Major League Baseball’s honest-to-goodness, we’re-gonna-enforce-it ban on foreign substances takes hold across the big leagues on Monday, one Hall of Famer will have his popcorn ready, eagerly awaiting a market correction in the pitcher-hitter economy.
“We’ve got guys who are pretty elite pitchers right now that two or three years ago, were very mediocre,” Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves icon and 2018 Hall inductee, told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m all for developing and improving, but they’re doing it by leaps and bounds.
“I understand the backlash of it happening in the middle of the season, but obviously Major League Baseball felt it was pretty important to address it now. They’ve given guys a week to 10 days – that’s two starts to get off of it. You’ve had fair warning. I’d be interested to see if some of these pitchers revert back to the way they were a couple years ago.© Todd Kirkland, Getty Images Freddie Freeman accepts his 2020 NL MVP trophy from former Brave Chipper Jones.
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Indeed, it’s been 18 days since MLB informed owners a more literal translation of the foreign substances rule was forthcoming, and a week since it laid out in painstaking terms how zero the tolerance shall be. Managers, general managers and umpires were debriefed over the weekend.
And now, we wait to see who gets caught – or crushed by opposing hitters.
As the hitter-pitcher imbalance hit unsettling levels this spring – with record lows in batting average and record highs, yet again, in strikeouts – Jones, who hit 468 home runs in his career, was just hoping for it all to make sense.
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Jones, a hitting consultant for the Braves, saw things far more clearly the other day, when he applied some Spider Tack – the jet fuel of foreign substances that the industry seemingly decided was a bridge too far – to his fingers.
“And I could literally stick the baseball to my hand,” says Jones, who will announce the baseball winners for the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards beginning June 28. “There’s a reason the ball stuck to Yadier Molina’s chest protector (in 2017). It is ridiculous. It is above and beyond.
“I do not have a problem with there being something on the ball to help with grip. But when you’re talking about pitchers who are, for lack of a better term, mediocre, and their ability to use this Spider Tack stuff, and their spin rate and their fastballs and breaking balls start to be unhittable, that’s when you start to raise your eyebrows.”
Fortunately, the 1999 National League MVP has a solution.
For whatever reason, MLB has always viewed pine tar as suitable for hitters, verboten for pitchers, who were relegated to a rosin bag at the back of the mound.
Jones would like to see the walls between hitters and pitchers and substances torn down. Pine tar?
Legalize it – for everyone.
“There’s two substances that are allowed in Major League Baseball for hitters and pitcher,” he says, “and that is pine tar and rosin. If you want to cure everything, you let the pitchers use pine tar. If we as hitters can use it, I don’t think it should be excluded from the pitchers.
“Now, everything in moderation. I don’t know how you police it or regulate it or have it universally, equally used, but I think that’s the only fair way to do it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chipper Jones awaits pitcher regression as MLB's banned substances ban begins: 'You had fair warning'
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
Beginning with Monday's games, pitchers will be ejected and suspended for using illegal foreign substances to doctor baseballs as Major League Baseball ramps up its enforcement of an area that has been the talk of baseball in recent weeks.
But the start of MLB's crackdown brings as many questions about how it will work as it does answers to an issue that has led to high strikeout rates and many debates across the sport. How will umpires go about conducting examinations of pitchers during games? What happens if a player is caught? How differently do pitchers and hitters feel about the steps being taken? And how much of an impact will this all have on the product we see on the field?
To help get you up to speed for the start of a new chapter for baseball, we asked ESPN MLB experts Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers to provide an FAQ-style breakdown of how the foreign-substance crackdown will play out across MLB.
: Passan: Why it is causing rift across baseball | Answering key questions | Olney: Why Manfred must act nowHow will umpires enforce MLB's foreign-substance crackdown during games?
Rogers: Pitchers will be inspected after innings and/or when they come out of games. If they're doing something suspicious during an at-bat, they can be checked between batters as well. Their hat, glove and belt will be looked at while the rest of the uniform is also in play if umpires deem it necessary. The one post-examination exception is for closers. They'll be inspected before they pitch to avoid awkward walk-off moments. Umpires will be on the lookout for anything that feels or looks slick or sticky.
Gonzalez: And that is among the many elements that are fascinating about this. The league didn't want to navigate the difficulty of suspending players retroactively based on findings from inspected baseballs, which would have undoubtedly triggered a litany of objections. Umpires, the league believes, have to be the enforcers. Maybe so. But this is asking a lot of those umpires, who are already under such heavy scrutiny with automated strike zones forthcoming. When a pitcher has to exit because he has been caught using foreign substances, umpires will be the ones who will hear it from coaches, players and fans, even though they're merely acting on the league's intentions.What happens if someone is caught with a substance deemed to be against the rules?
Rogers: He will immediately be ejected and suspended for 10 days with pay. The team cannot replace the player on the roster.
Gonzalez: The memo sent to teams stated that repeat offenders will be subject to "more severe, progressive discipline," though it's unclear what that might actually look like.How will this impact position players?
Rogers: If they're acting suspicious as they visit a pitcher on the mound, they can be checked out by the umpires as well. Many infielders -- especially during the colder months -- have possessed a grip enhancer just like a pitcher does. As long as they don't assist their own pitcher they probably won't be subjected to a random check. If a position player comes in to pitch, he might need to switch gloves.Why is this starting on June 21, two months into the season?
Rogers: MLB wanted to gather data before laying down the hammer. The league says it saw more evidence of sticky stuff on baseballs than it first imagined, so it wanted to act before the game devolved into a three-true-outcome experience more than it has. Strikeouts are way up while batting averages have come down even more. The threat of the crackdown appears to be having an impact as June has been a better month for balls in play, although the warmer weather also can play a part in offensive improvements.
Gonzalez: The suddenness of this is still jarring to me. This could've been handled so much more smoothly, either by waiting until the forthcoming offseason to allow pitchers to adequately adjust to throwing the baseball without anything on it or by warning them about an upcoming crackdown before last offseason. The league has known for years that this had become a serious problem, with pitchers venturing outside of sunblock and pine tar to maximize spin rate. Why not push this sooner so that players had months to adjust, rather than force them to go cold turkey in the middle of a season? It's a question a lot of pitchers have been asking.How do these sticky substances help pitchers?
Gonzalez: The better the grip, the more spin that can be generated on breaking balls and four-seam fastballs, the latter of which use spin to create the "rising" illusion and, thus, produce swings and misses. Four-seam fastballs have essentially replaced sinkers in the modern game, making the use of sticky substances all the more prevalent. Trevor Bauer was conducting experiments on this way back in 2018, when he stated that added stick triggered an increase between 200 and 300 revolutions per minute on 90 mph fastballs.
But that's only part of the story.
The other aspect of this is that the surface of major league baseballs has been found to be inconsistent and, at times, exceedingly difficult to grip. The memo issued to teams stated that "the rosin provided for on the mound ... is sufficient alone to address any serious concerns about grip and control." But that runs counter to what I have heard from several pitchers, who say the balls are often dusty and chalky -- especially when a few days have passed since they were rubbed up -- and are too difficult to grip without a tackier substance.
The league's plan had been to come up with a uniform substance with which to rub up baseballs before the game, replacing the mud that had been utilized since the mid-20th century. Cracking down on everything before implementing that has predictably upset a lot of pitchers.How much impact will this have on games starting this week?
Rogers: It's doubtful we'll see players ejected and suspended immediately. There's too much attention on the subject right now. But we might see some elite pitchers look a little different than they have previously. That could mean reduced spin rates and hard contact going up -- or just more contact, in general. A further reduction in strikeouts would make league executives very happy.
Gonzalez: Perhaps it's already starting to have an impact. On June 5, our own Buster Olney reported that major league umpires would begin strictly enforcing the use of foreign substances within weeks. At that point, the leaguewide slash line was .237/.312/.396 and the strikeout rate was 24.2%. Over the next 14 days, the leaguewide slash line rose to .248/.320/.416, while the strikeout rate dropped to 23%. It's important to note, though, that offense typically picks up when the weather gets warmer. But the average RPMs on four-seam fastballs was 2,316 from April 1 to June 5 and 2,260 from June 6 to 14. Usually you need RPM drops of 150 to 200 to really notice a difference in the way a baseball behaves. But that was by far the lowest two-week spin rate this year, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.play
Gerrit Cole voices his frustration with issues gripping the baseball after MLB's attempt to regulate foreign substances.What are pitchers saying about the crackdown?
Rogers: It depends on whom you talk to. For obvious reasons, those who say they don't use anything are all for the crackdown -- think soft tossers and sinkerball artists. Others are wholeheartedly against outlawing the more innocent use of sunscreen and even pine tar, claiming they need it for grip. Then there's Tyler Glasnow, who says not using anything in his last start led to his injury and will lead to others. Many pitchers are united in believing the league should have waited for the offseason to act.
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Gonzalez: The pitchers I have spoken to are surprised the league lumped those who use pine tar or sunscreen in the same group with those who deploy more exaggerated grip enhancers like Spider Tack or Pelican Grip Dip, given that the league -- and its hitters -- have historically turned a blind eye to the former group. Perhaps the league thought it would be too difficult for umpires to make such a distinction during games. But there are potential adverse effects with this plan, too, and one has to wonder whether Glasnow will be the last to blame an injury on the league's sudden enforcement strategy.What are hitters saying about the crackdown?
Rogers: Many are in favor of it, but some have a soft spot for the sunscreen users. If hit-by-pitches rise above their current level, you'll see a cry for help -- possibly from pitchers and hitters. Good grip helps pitchers with control. That's the argument that has historically been made and will continue to be made. The data might back it up.
Gonzalez: Also, though, this will undoubtedly help hitters gain some semblance of an advantage, and they'll happily take it given how much of an advantage pitchers have gained through analytics. In the words of Justin Turner, a 13-year veteran and player rep: "All we want is a fair playing field across the board for everyone and everyone to have the same opportunities. Whatever the league had to do -- as long as it's fair and it's across the board and it's the same for everyone, I think that's the main goal here."
Chicago White Sox: LF Andrew Vaughn
It was frankly hard to pick a player for this spot. Because while the White Sox have their share of problems despite their excellent 43-29 record, they're more so injury-related than performance-related. But since somebody has to go here, we'll cast a sideways glance at Andrew Vaughn.
As he previously played in only 55 minor league games and is now out of position in left field, the rookie's major league experience is basically an ongoing experiment. Since he hasn't exactly impressed on either side of the ball—he's barely above replacement level with 0.3 rWAR—one might question whether he's keeping a job only because the White Sox lack other options.
Cleveland: LF Eddie Rosario
At 39-30, Cleveland is probably the most overlooked good team in MLB right now. But at least until the club can start generating some more offense for the sake of widening its plus-three run differential, it's place in the AL playoff picture is very much precarious.
As for where that offense might come from, it would help a great deal if Eddie Rosario resembled the guy who hit 32 home runs just two years ago. He thus far only has five to go with a career-low 83 OPS+, all while pulling in the club's second-biggest salary at $8 million. All told, it's not a good look for him.
Detroit Tigers: DH Miguel Cabrera
With their rebuild now in its fifth season, the Tigers do have some good things going for them. Just three years after going No. 1 in the draft, Casey Mize is finding his footing in the big leagues. Meanwhile, Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo has generated frequent highlights on offense.
The Miguel Cabrera situation, however, is getting awkward. He's a two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer, but he's now 38 and making very slow progress toward various milestones amid easily his worst offensive season. Even if it's not this year, it seems inevitable that he'll take the Albert Pujols route out of town.
Kansas City Royals: DH Jorge Soler
Even as late as May 1, the Royals were seven games over .500 and comfortably in first place in the AL Central. But as the losses (29 of them, to be exact) have piled up since then, it's only become more clear that they still have some rebuilding to do.
To this end, impending free agent Jorge Soler ought to be a valuable trade chip. But in reality, not so much. Though he launched 48 homers in 2019, his power has been largely absent as he's hit just 14 homers over the last two seasons. Unless he picks it up, the Royals might not be able to get anything for him.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Kenta Maeda
After winning the AL Central in 2019 and again in 2020, the Twins have shockingly Titanic'd their way to a 30-41 record in 2021. It would therefore be easier to list which of their players hasn't come under scrutiny yet, but there surely isn't any bigger disappointment than Kenta Maeda.
In the wake of a runner-up finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting, Maeda was supposed to be the ace of the Twins staff in 2021. He's instead been a puzzling non-factor, posting a 4.85 ERA in 11 starts on either side of a stint on the injured list. He might still turn into trade bait, but only if he gets hot before July 30.