Heading into the 2021 regular season, MLB reportedly informed teams they would use Statcast data to monitor pitchers’ spin rates in efforts to curb widespread usage of foreign substances on baseballs.
MLB’s efforts also have entailed collecting the first ball thrown from games across the league so they could be examined in a lab setting. The Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves in a bit of a firestorm when it was reported Trevor Bauer was under investigation.
Bauer took umbrage with the suggestion he was a focal point and correctly noted MLB was collecting baseballs from effectively all pitchers.
The overall situation appears to be coming to a head, as after owners’ meetings last week, MLB is prepared to have umpires start examining pitchers for banned substances during games, per ESPN’s Buster Olney:
All Major League Baseball pitchers will be checked repeatedly and randomly for foreign substances by umpires under the plan being swiftly advanced — and perhaps implemented within the next 10 days to two weeks.
While details are not yet finalized, umpires may be tasked with checking not only pitchers but position players as well, and punishment could entail suspensions without pay:
Pitchers will be checked randomly by umpires, with every starting pitcher likely to be checked at least two times per start. With officials cognizant of having equipment checks slow a sport in which the pace of play is already thought to be too deliberate, pitchers might be checked as they walk off the field at the conclusion of an outing. One management source estimated that there will be eight to 10 random foreign-substance checks per game.
The discussion about penalties has been centered on suspending offenders 10 days without pay. Upon hearing this in a meeting the other day, one owner noted that the MLB Players Association might file a grievance, and the broad response around him was that the issue was too important to allow someone to get away with a light penalty. “The issue is too important for us now,” said one executive.
Position players will be subject to foreign-substance checks, although the conversations are around issuing warnings initially to non-pitchers, with umpires warning catchers and others to clean up an area of concern.
Although MLB has long had a policy in place to ban the use of foreign substances, it has not been enforced unless a pitcher was egregiously violating the rule. Teams have also been reluctant to ask umpires to conduct a check out of concern their pitchers would be subject to that as well and also found guilty.
When Joe West recently had St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos change caps, it sent manager Mike Shildt into a tirade and resulted in an ejection. Shildt then openly criticized MLB over the situation and said a larger conversation needed to be had.
Roberts talks MLB’s approach to sticky stuff
As MLB nears enforcement of their rule against foreign substances, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he had not yet addressed the team over the matter.
“I think there’s things that are kind of coming out through the media, through Major League Baseball, through the Players Association, so no one really knows how this is going to shake out,” Roberts said.
“But guys are certainly aware of it, and our guys are really in tune with the Players Association and information they’re getting.”
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