Major League Baseball announced during the 2021 season that they would begin enforcing a pre-existing rule banning pitchers from adding foreign substances a.k.a. sticky stuff to the baseball.
The crackdown almost immediately brought spin rates down across the league. Many pitchers suddenly lost the ability to throw high fastballs with the same effectiveness as in years past.
Now a new report has detailed that the league-wide trends after the substance ban have almost entirely reversed.
The Athletic spoke to numerous players and looked at the change in fastball spin rate in 2022. They found that despite the hand checks that umpires do after each inning, it seems likely foreign substances are back to a significant degree.
League wide, the average spin rate of a four seam fastball in May 2021 reached roughly 2325 rpm’s, dropping to ~2260 the next month when enforcement of the rule began.
Something Changed In June
Through early in the 2022 season, rates remained around that level. But starting in June, something clearly changed.
After a steady climb, by September, a substantial portion of the decrease had been recovered. Spin reached near 2300 rpm’s again.
While it’s not quite to the same degree as the 2020-21 days of extremely sticky substances, this is still a noticeable increase.
The Athletic reported that a source within MLB confirmed that “this is something they are monitoring closely.”
One hitter interviewed sarcastically commented that it’s entirely unsurprising spin rates are back up.
“Of course it is,” said another major league hitter when presented with the evidence that spin is back up. “The umpire checks are almost useless.”
A hitting coach went even further, saying that pitchers are getting ever more elaborate with their cheating rituals, using something on their pants to dissolve sticky substances.
“If anyone really cared about this, they could put an umpire behind the mound that could step in and do spot checks at any moment,” said a hitting coach, pointing out there are pitchers with solutions on their pants that help dissolve sticky stuff before the hand inspections.
Imagine an umpire standing behind the mound during each game just watching to see if pitchers are using something to increase their spin rates.
Several Issues At Play With Sticky Stuff
There are several issues at play here; first and foremost being that baseball’s unwritten rules have often turned a blind eye to pitchers enhancing their grip on the ball. But hitters were put at a severe disadvantage when pitchers started using extremely tacky substances.
Secondly, the league is attempting to increase offense and in-play excitement. Pitchers using sticky stuff generally means their pitches are more effective and better at preventing balls in play.
So MLB’s crackdown was well-intentioned, but if pitchers are somehow working around it, what more can they really do?
The hair check on Cleveland Guardians reliever James Karinchak was probably the most obvious example of teams picking up on patterns:
And a more detailed breakdown shows just how often he was going to his hair and the rosin bag between pitches:
His spin rate by month tells the story, after bottoming out in 2021, it’s recovered substantially this year:
With massive MLB rule changes rapidly approaching, we’ll see if there’s more enforcement on pitchers coming.