Major League Baseball is in the early stages of undertaking enforcement measures targeting the use of foreign substances by pitchers. Seemingly, use of those substances designed to improve a pitcher's grip on the baseball is increasingly common, and the resulting increase in spin rate across the league likely played a role in high strikeout rates.
In response to those trends and the effects of same upon the game, MLB is cracking down and putting teeth into a longstanding rule that's been ignored for a long time by checking pitchers -- and their gloves, hats, and belt buckles -- for grip enhancers. To hear commissioner Rob Manfred tell it, this major shift has gone swimmingly.
Here's part of what he said about the foreign substances initiative during a recent conversation with Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic:
"My view is the first two days have gone very well. We've had no ejections (for foreign substances), players in general have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. Frankly, the data suggests that we are making progress with respect to the issues (in spin rate) that caused us to undertake the effort in the first place. I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal, but that was one incident. And we expect that we will continue, as the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident."
The "gone very well" part is the notable takeaway here, as few others likely share that opinion. Yes, you've got the Max Scherzer-Joe Girardi kerfuffle in Philly, and the Sergio Romo near meltdown. As well, there was this thoroughly awkward moment when Mets rookie Tylor Megill was frisked upon completion of his big-league debut:
While allowing that there's no obvious best way to approach the issue now that MLB has allowed the problem to fester, there are probably better ways to go about it.
Former MLB executive David Samson broke down Manfred's comments on Thursday's Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen here:
This obviously raises the matter of whether the enforcement mechanism will be altered at some point. Manfred, however, wasn't willing to commit to what the future might look like in terms of policing foreign substances:
"I think we have tried to stay flexible on the issue and learn. With respect to this last two days, I think it's too soon to offer you any judgment on what's going to happen (with future enforcement changes)."
While the use of high-grade sticky substances like Spider Tack is no doubt playing a role in the decline of the ball in play, it's not the only thing that's gumming up the engine of the game right now. As such, all of this may not move the needle as much as MLB is hoping.