Amid a historic power outage at all levels of baseball, Major League Baseball has made a radical change.
Pitchers are now being checked by umpires mid-game for any type of foreign substance they may be applying to the baseball.
For years, pitchers have used a variation of substances—often sunscreen mixed with rosin from the legal rosin bag on the back of every mound—to give them an improved grip on the ball and improve control. But in recent years, more and more are using a stickier substance to not only give them more grip, but to help them increase the spin.
Spin rate measures how fast a ball spins on its way to home plate, and the more it spins—the higher the spin rate—the more breaking pitches like curveballs and sliders can move, and the faster fastballs can be thrown. With offensive numbers in baseball at historic lows, the league decided to crack down.
“Everybody knows one is using it,” said Tulsa Drillers manager Scott Hennessey. “You are going to be checked and you are on an even playing field. We’re good with that.”
Already at the Major League level, opposing managers have used it as a bit of gamesmanship, which, according to Hennessey, is a mistake.
“I think if guys are mowing them down, he has pretty good stuff,” Hennessey said. “You definitely don’t want to add fuel to the fire for the rest of that game, or the next start, or years down the road.”
With the move, pitchers are now at the mercy of how each baseball is prepared. Balls are “rubbed up” with a special mud before each game.
“It’s a different baseball each time,” said Ryan Pepiot, Drillers pitcher and a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. “One may be rubbed up more than the other, and one may not be. It’s kind of like a cue ball.”
Pepiot said safety is an issue, both for the pitcher and the hitter.
“I don’t want to put a hitter in a position where they can get hurt,” he said.