Thanks to MLB's own actions, pitchers' use of illegal substances to aid their grip has become a major story in baseball. Pete Alonso doesn't see the problem.
The New York Mets first baseman was asked about MLB's upcoming crackdown on pitching substances by reporters on Wednesday. He responded by defending the use of such substances, saying that he would rather a pitcher use them than lose his grip while hurling a 99 mph projectile at him.
And then Alonso threw in another counterargument, that MLB has intentionally altered its balls to suppress player compensation.
"Absolutely not. I don't think so, because, for me, I think that since the start of the game, pitchers have been using 'substances.' There's a bag of rosin behind the mound right now to help guys dry their hands and get grip. For me, I think whether they're using pine tar, rosin, Bullfrog or sunscreen and rosin, whatever they want to use to help control the ball, let them use it.
"I go in the box every single day and I see guys throwing harder and harder. I don't want 99 [mph] slipping out of someone's hand because they didn't have enough feel for it. I think the biggest concern is Major League Baseball manipulates the baseballs year in and year out depending on the free-agency class or guys being in an advanced part of their arbitration. So I do think that's a big issue, the ball being different every single year."
Alonso also pointed to the example of teammate Kevin Pillar, who sustained multiple nasal fractures after a 94 mph fastball hit him in the face last month.
That argument in favor of pitching substances is nothing new; defenders of the substances have long noted that many hitters have said they prefer pitchers have their best possible grip, even if it means improved spin rates and harder-to-hit pitches. Of course, there's a major difference between pitchers getting firm grips and what Spider Tack does.
But back to Alonso's conspiracy theory.
When pressed on his free agency comment, Alonso had this to say:
“That’s a fact. Guys have talked about it. In 2019, there was a huge class of free-agent pitchers, and that’s ‘the juiced balls.’ And then 2020 was a strange year with the COVID season, but now that we’re back to playing a regular season with a ton of shortstops or position players that are going to be paid a lot of money, like high-caliber players. It’s not a coincidence. It definitely is something that they do.”
Past research has found that MLB got into the business of altering its baseballs to manipulate offensive production back in 2015, but the mashing peaked in 2019 when the league set an all-time high in home runs with two and a half weeks left in the season. At that point, MLB — which had bought ball manufacturer Rawlings a year before — admitted something was different with the ball.
Coincidentally (or not, as Alonso alleges), that was the year in which pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and Hyun Jin Ryu all hit free agency. Plenty of premier hitters also hit free agency that year, though, including Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Nick Castellanos.
MLB responded by trying to deaden the ball entering 2021, and it's unclear just how effective that was because of the aforementioned issue of pitching substances. If you can find a coherent master plan to hurt players in all that, more power to you.
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