Back in late March, Major League Baseball issued a memo to all 30 teams regarding the doctoring of baseballs with foreign substances by pitchers for this coming season. It was tantamount to a heads-up that the league is going to take great measures to tamp down on the use of substances beyond simply getting a good grip on the ball. The intent is to prevent use of substances, such as pine tar, to increase the spin on the ball, which leads to extra velocity and movement.
Just a week into the season, we have the first report of a pitcher's baseballs being investigated by the league. Trevor Bauer of the Dodgers is under the microscope with multiple baseballs from his start in Oakland on Wednesday being looked at, The Athletic reports. From the story:
The umpires in Bauer's start against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday collected multiple balls he threw during the game, according to major-league sources. The balls had visible markings and were sticky, and were sent to the league offices for further inspection, the sources said.
Yet, even if the balls Bauer threw are found to have contained foreign substances, it remains to be seen whether the league can prove he was responsible for their application, or whether any punishment imposed by commissioner Rob Manfred would stand.
We're in the preliminary stages of any type of story here and we could end up hearing the baseballs were perfectly legal. This is notable for several reasons, however. First, this league-wide effort to root out the substances is new and this is the first anyone has heard of baseballs being investigated.
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It is, of course, also very notable that it's Bauer. In the story in late March discussing the league's memo and the biggest takeaways, we mentioned that in 2018 Bauer was very outspoken both on Twitter and in the clubhouse about how effective substances can help a pitcher achieve more spin, stopping just short of accusing the Astros of doing it. Next time he pitched, his spin rates jumped significantly early in the game and, after the game, he offered up a "no comment" -- odd for talkative type like Bauer -- when asked about it. He won the NL Cy Young last season with big jumps in his spin rates from 2019.
This isn't to say Bauer doctored the balls in Oakland this week. Far from it. In fact, it could be the opposite in that MLB is watching Bauer more closely than other pitchers specifically because of his extensive history with this subject matter. It could also be a coincidence in that this was simply the first time a group of umpires thought they saw something.
On a matter of guilt or innocence, we can wait to hear what comes from the league's investigation without passing judgement on Bauer.
For now, the league appears to be investigating its first set of pitcher baseballs and that it is Bauer is fascinating.