(AP) — Pitchers will be ejected and suspended for ten games if they are caught using illegal foreign substances to doctor baseballs, according to a Major League Baseball crackdown that will begin on June 21.
Responding to record strikeouts and a league batting average that is more than a half-century low, the commissioner's office announced Tuesday that major and minor league umpires will begin routine checks on all pitchers, even if opposing managers do not request inspections.
Repeat offenders will face progressive discipline, and failure to comply will result in discipline for teams and club employees.
“After an extensive process of repeated warnings with no effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans
, and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is required to level the playing field,” said baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred
in a statement.
“I understand there is a history
of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before, and it has become clear that the use of foreign substances has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else — an unfair competitive advantage that is creative.
The perception of increased use of foreign substances, linked to a drop in offense, is viewed as the most widespread instance of widespread cheating in baseball since the rise of steroids
, which resulted in the adoption
of random drug testing with penalties prior to the 2004 season.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who was singled out by Minnesota
Josh Donaldson for a drop in spin rate during a June 3 start, dodged a question last week about whether he had ever used a Spider Tack, a sticky substance designed for Strongman competitors.
“I don’t know how to answer that, to be honest,” Cole said. “There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the previous generation of players to this generation of players, and I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard.”
On March 23, MLB
informed teams that it would increase monitoring and take steps such as collecting balls taken out of play from all teams and analyzing Statcast spin-rate data.
“Based on information gathered during the first two months of the season — including numerous complaints from position players, pitchers, umpires, coaches, and executives — there is a prevalence of foreign substance use by pitchers in Major League Baseball and throughout the minor leagues,” MLB stated.
“Many baseballs collected have had dark, amber-colored markings that are sticky to the touch.” MLB recently completed extensive testing, including testing by third-party researchers, to determine whether the use of foreign substances has a material impact on performance, and that research concluded that foreign substances significantly increase the spin rate and movement of the baseball, providing pitc
“In addition, the use of foreign substances appears to contribute to a pitching style in which pitchers sacrifice location in favor of spin and velocity, particularly with respect to elevated fastballs; however, there is no evidence of a link between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances.”
The expected crackdown appears to have already had an effect.
According to MLB Statcast data, fastball spin rates averaged 2,306-2,329 revolutions per minute from the start of the season until June 5.
Following an owners’ meeting on June 3 during which talk of a crackdown surfaced, the average fell to 2,282 during the week of June 6 and to 2,226 on Sunday.
The major league batting average was.232 through April
, down from.252 two years ago and below the 1968 record low of.237, and it was.236 through May, also the lowest since 1968.
The weekly average increased to.247 in the week ending June 6, bringing the season average to.238.
Since June 3, the strikeout percentage has dropped from 24.2% to 23.4%, and the walk percentage has dropped from 8.9% to 8.4%.
“This is not about blaming any individual player or club; it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed. We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game.”
While Bill Miller, president
of the Major League Umpires Association, was quoted in the announcement as being supportive, there was no similar statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association, which stated that it was reviewing the memo and had no immediate comment.
Suspended players will not be replaced on the active roster.
Rosin bags will remain permitted, but rosin cannot be mixed with sunscreen or other substances, and pitchers are advised not to use sunscreen after sunset in outdoor stadiums and not to use it at all in indoor ballparks. Umpires will inspect rosin bags before games to ensure they are standard.
Umpires will check all starters multiple times and all relievers at the end of their first inning or when removed, whichever comes first. Caps, gloves, and fingertips will be checked. Umpires may also check when they notice sticky balls or when they perceive a pitcher going to his glove, cap, belt, uniform, or body
in a manner that could be to retrieve or apply a substance.
Regular inspections will be conducted on catchers, and position players may be searched.
Pitchers will be held accountable for foreign substances found on catchers and position players; however, a position player will not be ejected for possessing a foreign substance unless the umpire determines the player was applying it to a ball to help a pitcher.
Violators are ejected, and decisions are not subject to replay review. Players who refuse to allow inspection are presumed to have violated the rules and will be ejected. Club employees who assist players in using or masking foreign substances, refuse to cooperate, or fail to report violations will face fines
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