Is A Crackdown Coming On Substances That Give MLB Pitchers A Better Grip?

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Welcome to my weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) column on baseball and betting here at Gaming Today. This week, due to the Memorial Day holiday, I have one column. Call me a slacker. Call me a ne’er-do-well. Call me a vagabond, if anyone uses that word anymore. I’m still dreaming up names for this column, so go over to our Twitter profile if you have a suggestion. Be nice.

Is MLB Poised To Crack Down On Grip Substances?

Baseball’s not-so-secret secret is that nearly every pitcher in the game is using a banned substance to improve their grip on the ball. The check-writers of the sport have tolerated this, for three reasons:

  1. Prevailing wisdom says the use of banned substances (creams, pine tar, clear gels etc.) helps pitchers control their pitches. No batter wants to face a pitcher who has no earthly idea where his 99 mile-per-hour fastball is going.
  2. Pitch grip substances help: it improves spin rate which leads to better breaking balls and fastballs that dip and dive and ride and glide. Teams love better results from their pitchers, especially when they can dramatically increase the quality of a pitcher who is cheap. Pitchers no longer have to be elite…to be elite.
  3. Everyone is doing it, and no team wants to out their opponent when their pitchers are breaking the rules too.

But there is a possibility that Major League Baseball is ready to finally take some action against grip substances. Earlier this year it was revealed that an employee of the Angels was mixing and creating a substance that he sold or supplied to pitchers, both on the Angels and other teams. His clients allegedly included Gerrit Cole, who now tosses his pitches for the Yankees. That story illustrates how prevalent and brazen players are at cheating.

In April, Dodger pitcher Trevor Bauer, who likes publicity as much as King Kong likes blondes, was called out for using a substance on his pitching hand. In the past, Bauer has railed against the use of foreign substances, even going as far as reportedly using it during a start for a few innings to prove how it impacts spin rate. It’s possible that Bauer, who won the Cy Young Award last season, has gone from crusader to adopter. Maybe he figures ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?’

With negative publicity about foreign substances in the news, and with the Houston sign-stealing scandal still fresh in the minds of fans (and with other cheats like the Red Sox Apple Watch fiasco lingering), MLB may feel the need to take action. This week owners will gather for a regularly scheduled meeting, and there are rumors that they may issue a statement on the use of foreign substances. Besides protecting the integrity of the sport, MLB may have other reasons to do something.

Run scoring and offense are at lows we haven’t seen since the early 1970s. The MLB batting average rests at .236, and only six players in the National League are hitting above .300, while strikeouts are soaring. Five batters are currently on pace to break the single-season record for strikeouts. With defensive shifts, an increase in fastball speed, and the foreign substances giving pitchers astounding spin rates, the competitive advantage rests squarely with the pitcher and defense. MLB may feel a need to ban foreign substances or at least start to suspend or fine pitchers caught using the sticky stuff. Thus far this season, four pitchers have been suspended in the minor leagues for using foreign substances.

What It Means For Gamblers If MLB Enforces The Banned Substances Rule For Pitchers

Rules are on the books now that outlaw the use of foreign substances on a baseball by a pitcher. The league simply doesn’t enforce them. But that can change with one memo to umpires or one strongly-worded statement on the matter from the league.

If MLB does start to police the mound, and if pitchers are forced to stop using grip substances for fear of being ejected and suspended, you will see strikeout rates plummet. You’ll also see marginal pitchers start to be marginal again. Right now every team has 2-3 pitchers in the bullpen who are striking out more than one batter per inning. Many of those guys are one-pitch wonders. If they aren’t allowed to grease their palms to better spin the baseball, you’ll see fewer K’s and more runs scored. That would be more entertaining for sure, and also change your strategy for betting on the over/under in baseball.

Warm Weather Impacts Baseballs

Be mindful of the weather too. As the temperatures increase, the baseball will fly farther, and run-scoring will improve. Most hitters will still employ a “grip it and rip it” mentality, but as summer heats up, runs usually go up. If MLB also starts to watch the use of foreign substances by pitchers, runs could really skyrocket.

Special Baseball Moment Of The Week

Where can you catch a home run ball and also smell the pungent aroma of manure? How about famed Fenway Park in Boston, which now boasts a functioning farm. Here’s an aerial view of the ballpark, just beyond the famous Green Monster left-field wall:

As my friend Matt Monagan reported for MLB.com, the Red Sox added this 5,000-square foot farm a few years ago, and it now yields 6,000 pounds of produce per year. Green Monster indeed.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.

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