How New MLB Enforcement On Banned Substances Will Change The Game On The Field

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This week Major League Baseball issued a statement outlining their change in policy regarding enforcement of the rule banning foreign substances on the baseball.

Anthony Castrovince shared the details on MLB.com, including this from commissioner Rob Manfred:

“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without 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 needed to level the playing field.”

Clearly, MLB has been gathering baseballs since opening day, examining them for sticky, wet, and just plain gunky stuff. While the league hasn’t enforced the use of grip-enhancing substances yet in 2021 at the major league level, there have been several minor league pitchers disciplined for the use of banned substances on the ball.

No one should be shocked that professional pitchers are using sticky foreign substances to help them grip and spin the baseball. Last year an employee of the Angels was fired when it was revealed he was making baseball-gripping goop coveted by many of the best pitchers in the game. Trevor Bauer, one of baseball’s most visible and social media savvy players, has challenged MLB to clean up the use of foreign substances, and may have used himself to improve his grip as he won the Cy Young last year and competes for the Dodgers in 2021.

Manfred added this in his official statement, which is extremely important:

“I understand there’s 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. It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else — an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field.”

There we have the head of his sport admitting that athletes are using substances banned by the rules to gain a competitive edge. This belies the argument by many that pitchers need sticky substances to allow them to control their pitches. One errant pitch could kill, after all. But as Manfred and MLB point out, hit-by-pitch rates have actually increased to record levels the last few seasons even though pitchers are dipping their fingers into foreign substances on a regular basis.

The last sentence in that second quote from Manfred is surprisingly honest coming from the gatekeeper of baseball. What Manfred is saying is “baseball is getting boring.” He isn’t wrong. Strikeouts account for nearly 25 percent of all plate appearances thus far in the 2021 season. If we add in walks and home runs, more than one-third (36 percent) of all plate appearances end in the ball not being put into the field of play.

How MLB Will Enforce The Banned Substance Rule

The new policies for enforcing the ban on foreign substances will be implemented starting with games played on June 21.

This is not a case of MLB instituting a new rule to the game. Existing MLB rule 3.01 states: “no player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance.” It’s important to point out that the rule book does not distinguish between a substance used to deface a ball (like sand paper or tobacco) and a substance used to improve grip (like rosin).

Further, MLB rule 6.02(c) says that a pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;” “deface the ball in any manner;” throw a shine ball, spit ball, mud ball or emery ball; “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance;” or “attach anything to his hand, any finger or either wrist.”

Rosin bags are located near the back of every pitching mound in pro baseball. But pitchers are prohibited from applying rosin to the baseball with the intent to discolor or damage it. Umpires will be asked to monitor whether pitchers combine the rosin with a substance (sunscreen is often a culprit) to intentionally deface the baseball.

Here are the steps MLB outlines in their enforcement plans:

  • Starting pitchers will be checked for substances more than once per game.
  • Relief pitchers are required to be inspected by the umpiring crew either at the conclusion of the inning or when the hurler is removed from the game.
  • Umpires may perform an inspection at any point that they deem necessary or should they be alerted to a rules infraction.
  • Teams may not request checks for foreign substances on opposing pitchers. Managers may not challenge a check or ejection based on these rules.
  • Players who are found to have used or supplied a foreign substance (knowingly or not) will be ejected from the game. Catchers may be inspected at any time by an umpire.
  • Any player who refuses to be inspected by an umpire will be ejected from the game and it will be assumed that they violated the rules, and will be suspended.
  • Offending players will be suspended a mandatory 10 games with pay.
  • Teams may not replace a player who is suspended for violation of these rules.

A couple thoughts on these rules changes: the physical checking of pitchers will most likely curb the use of foreign substances greatly. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher being bold enough to apply a substance, no matter how well they think they can conceal it, if they are in danger of being ejected in the middle of a game on the mound.

Secondly, while players will still get paid while suspended, teams can be severely penalized by the loss of that roster spot, since the rules state they cannot replace that player while he is suspended. Imagine a situation where a catcher and pitcher are found to have worked in concert to use a sticky grip-enhancing substance. If they are both ejected and suspended, that team now has 24 players, two fewer than the maximum allowance of 26. That will greatly impact a team, especially if it’s a relief pitcher.

What Does This Mean For MLB Odds And Baseball Betting?

Run scoring will increase, even more than it typically does when the weather warms. Without their spin-inducing sticky glue magic goop, big league pitchers will have to rely on their natural talent. Imagine that. As a result, you’ll see these changes to games in MLB over the 3 1/2 months of the regular season:

  • More baserunners as batters make better contact against baseballs that spin less
  • Increase in runs scored and extra-base hits as hitters make better contact
  • Pitching staffs will trend toward their strengths. If a team has a good starting rotation and a mediocre bullpen (without foreign substances), then they may rely more heavily on the proven arms in their rotation. If the team has a great bullpen, especially one with pitchers who are crafty, they might lessen their reliance on starters and shift more innings to the back of their pitching staff.
  • One-pitch pitchers will suffer.
  • Pitchers who rely on the four-season fastball and slider, the two pitches helped greatly by spin rate, will suffer.
  • Pitchers who have a good two-seam fastball and who utilize multiple pitches (think fastball, curve, changeup) will be better suited to the new rules.
  • Pitchers who have trended up the last few years as spin rate has become so important, may come back to the pack. Will Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole be as effective when they can’t use a sticky substance to rev up their spin rate? We’ll see.

Your Special Baseball Moment Of The Week

This week, history was made when statistics from the negro leagues were added to Baseball Reference, the de facto home of baseball numbers. Last December at the annual Winter Meetings, MLB announced that records from the negro leagues for the years 1920 to 1948, would be considered official Major League Baseball stats.

As a result of this wise decision, MLB has added the names and accomplishments of thousands of African American and Latino players to the official roster of the majors. Was Josh Gibson the equal of Babe Ruth as a home run hitter? Was Oscar Charleston as great as Ty Cobb? Was Satchel Paige as fantastic on the mound as Bob Feller? We will never know. But now we can see those names side-by-side on baseball-reference.com. For instance, Charleston is ranked second all-time in batting average to Cobb, with a lofty mark of .364 in 17 seasons in the negro leagues.

It’s refreshing to see the players from the negro leagues get recognition in this manner, though so many years after the fact. The negro leagues are an important part of baseball’s history, and their legacy should be remembered to honor the bravery and courage of the players who were denied a chance to compete on a field with white players solely because of prejudice and racism.

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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