Major League Baseball's crackdown on foreign substances will ramp up on June 21, according to a press release issued on Tuesday afternoon. "In recognition that the existing on-field enforcement process has not deterred an increasing number of violations, MLB has issued new guidance to Major and Minor League Umpires to serve as a uniform standard for the consistent application of the rules," the release read, in part, "including regular checks of all pitchers regardless of whether an opposing Club's manager makes a request."
Though using foreign substances has long been illegal, for years pitchers have been allowed to use grip enhancers. The problem is, as the years and technology have progressed, we've learned that some of these grip enhancers are actually performance enhancers. The latest invention on this front is Spider Tack, a kind of industrial glue that sends spin rates skyrocketing.
Nevertheless, all substances will be punished the same. Pitchers caught using foreign substances, whether Spider Tack, pine tar or a sunscreen mixture, will receive a 10-game suspension. Said suspension is with pay, but 10 games for a reliever is a big loss. Starters might be able to only miss one start with creative maneuvering, though teams will be unable to replace a suspended player, leaving them to potentially play shorthanded for more than a week at a time.
Per the press release, the new guidelines include:
- To ensure that enforcement of the rules is even and consistent, umpires have been instructed to perform checks periodically throughout the game of all starting and relief pitchers on both teams, regardless of whether they suspect a violation of the rules.
- Starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory check per game, and each relief pitcher must be checked either at the conclusion of the inning in which he entered the game or when he is removed from the game, whichever occurs first. In general, inspections will be conducted between innings or after pitching changes to avoid a delay of the game and to allow the umpire to perform a thorough check, including the hat, glove, and fingertips of the pitcher.
- In addition, umpires may perform a check at any time during the game when the umpire notices the baseball has an unusually sticky feel to it, or when the umpire observes a pitcher going to his glove, hat, belt, or any other part of his uniform or body to retrieve or apply what may be a foreign substance.
In light of the increased attention on the so-called "sticky stuff" this month, offense has ticked up while spin rates have ticked down. It's a small sample and we have no way of figuring out if the changes are related to weather, health or other outside variables.
Regardless, MLB is going full steam ahead here without collectively bargaining the issue with players. These are pretty big deterrents and show the league is serious about rooting this out.