Report: MLB will crack down on pitchers using foreign substances on the ball in 2020

·3 min read
MLB cracking down on pine tar.
MLB believes pitchers are using foreign substances to gain an edge. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball already messed up one cheating scandal after ignoring the warning signs. Now, the league is trying to get ahead of another instance of rule breaking that’s been heavily rumored around the game.

MLB plans to crack down on pitchers caught using foreign substances on the baseball in 2020, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. It’s an open secret that many pitchers use pine tar or other concoctions to help get a better grip on the ball.

MLB teams usually don’t care about pitchers using foreign substances

Teams and players generally accept that’s the case, and rarely call out an opposing pitcher unless his use is extremely obvious. Mostly, though, teams are OK with pitchers using substances if it means they have better control over 98 mph pitches. While that added control can be advantageous for pitchers, batters feel safer knowing it’s less likely a ball will slip and hit them in a dangerous area.

The league, however, is worried that pitchers are using those substances to gain too much of an edge, according to the Post.

However, the analytics revolution has brought increased awareness of the benefit of spin on velocity and movement, and tacky substances bring the fringe benefit of making it easier to increase revolutions per minute on the ball. To try to combat this, MLB wants Rule 8.02 enforced.

The new rule could be tough to enforce

Enforcement of the rule could be an issue, and may vary by umpiring crew. If caught, will a pitcher receive a lengthier suspension? Will they be fined? What happens if a pitcher is wearing sunscreen during a day game? Can an umpiring crew really punish a player for protecting themselves against the risk of cancer?

It’s also unclear how teams will respond to the rule change. Will teams continue to look the other way when a pitcher is using a foreign substance, or will teams be more accusatory knowing they can knock a great pitcher out a game if that pitcher is cheating? Or will the umpire be allowed to check out a pitcher if they suspect the player is using a foreign substance? There are a lot of unknowns here.

Is this a response to the Astros’ cheating scandal?

The emphasis on Rule 8.02 may not be directly connected to the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, though it can’t be ruled out either. MLB may be feeling some pressure from opposing teams and players to crack down on cheating after Astros players avoided punishment as part of the sign-stealing investigation. This could be a way for the league to show players it is getting ahead on other avenues of cheating, even though players are generally on board with pitchers using foreign substances.

The Astros, however, have been connected to the topic in the past. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer has suggested Astros pitchers used some type of substance to increase their spin rates. Astros players have denied those rumors over the years. When asked about it this spring, Gerrit Cole — now a member of the New York Yankees — said the Astros did not use any sticky substances on the mound.

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