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Five Takeaways One Month Into Sticky-Stuff Enforcement

The official crackdown on foreign substances began one month ago, and it's had some real ramifications. Let's take a look.

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Today, July 21, marks one month since MLB began cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances. The results have been clear across the league: MLB’s average spin rate has dipped, with some pitchers making serious changes to their game, and offense has received a boost. Back at the end of June, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci checked in to see how baseball looked after one week of the updated enforcement policy. After one month, it’s time for an update.

Just a few caveats to note before we dive in. First, with most of the statistics below, June 21 is used as the line between “before” and “after,” since that was the day the new guidelines went into effect. But this situation actually created more of a gradual transitional period than an overnight shift. MLB gave a week of advance notice for the revamped policy—after days of rumblings that it might be coming—and so, unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that pitchers started ditching substances before June 21. The specific date works as well as any to create a single dividing line in the numbers here. But it’s not a perfect representation of how the change actually played out. Second, there’s no way to know just how much of the shifts described below can be attributed to the lack of substances, and how much can be attributed to… anything else. It seems clear the new policy has had some effect. But there are other factors here, too, like the warmer weather.

Even with those notes in mind? It’s obvious that the crackdown has had some real ramifications. Here are five takeaways from the first month of baseball without sticky substances:

1. Pitches have less spin

This one was obvious more or less right away. When Verducci ran his update on the situation at the end of June, he noted that the average spin rate of a four-seam fastball had fallen to its lowest point since 2018, after months of increase. The figure has only been falling further in July.

Here’s a graph of average spin rate per month—for all pitches and for four-seam fastballs specifically.


Given that league spin rate had been steadily increasing over the last few seasons, any sustained decrease would be notable, and this looks like it could be just that. Extreme spin has all but disappeared—there are hardly any four-seamers with a spin rate above 2,500 RPM. In 2020, those made up about 5% of all pitches. Earlier this spring, in April, they looked even slightly more common, at 6%. Since June 21? They’re just 1.8%.

This has sent baseball back in time a few years in terms of spin: The average four-seamer spin rate of the past month is close to where it was in 2015 or 2016. Perhaps pitchers will adjust to this new reality with time. But for now? It’s been a boon to hitters.

2. Offense is up across the board—which isn’t unusual for July

This season is no longer looking like it has a chance to be another Year of the Pitcher. Here’s how much offense has shifted across a few key categories since the crackdown:


Before June 21






Since June 21






But it’s hard to say just how much of that change can be attributed to the disappearance of sticky stuff: Offense always heats up in July. (It historically peaks in August.) As hitters settle in and the weather warms up, bats tend to get hot, too. This means that there’s not so much that's unusual about the numbers above. Comparing the same parts of the season from 2019, for instance, batting average and slugging increased by even more than they have this year, even though on-base percentage did not.

So, yes, there’s been a shift in some of the offensive categories that were attracting particular worry earlier this season—the ball is being put in play more often and the game isn’t so heavy on strikeouts. But it probably isn’t due exclusively, and maybe not even primarily, to the crackdown on foreign substances.

3. Walks are up—which is unusual for July

But while most of those offensive changes are somewhat normal for this time of year, there’s one that is genuinely, perhaps unprecedentedly not—the increase in walk rate. Even as offenses tend to get stronger in the summer, they don’t tend to walk more and, in fact, they tend to walk less. Pitchers typically refine their control as the season goes on. This year? Not the case.

While some of the substances that the league cracked down on, like SpiderTack, were best known for the wild spin they could put on the ball, others were used more for their ability to help a pitcher with his precision. Take that away, and you’re left with this, an unusual mid-summer spike in walks.

4. There’s no meaningful increase in hit by pitches

This was one point of contention in the early days of the crackdown: What if getting serious about eliminating all substances, rather than just the most extreme ones, led to an increase in HBPs? There were pitchers who said they felt materials like sunscreen gave them better control. There were even some hitters who said they were fine with that because it made them feel safer. The hit-by-pitch rate was already nearing a record high. What if the crackdown made it worse?

MLB claimed that it wouldn’t. And, for the most part, it hasn’t. The HBP rate has increased, but only very slightly in the first month of enforcement.

HBP per Plate Appearance

Before June 21


Since June 21


5. The early conversation missed on a lot

MLB has tried to crack down on pitchers doctoring the ball before. But it’s never done it quite like this—which meant that, naturally, there were plenty of questions about how it might all go wrong.

There were initially some fears that the umpires’ regular substance checks would be a drag on games (they take only a few seconds) or that there would be frequent incidents like Max Scherzer's unraveling in Philadelphia (he’s still alone on that one). And I harbored some concerns of my own after Rays starter Tyler Glasnow blamed the crackdown for an injury that occurred when he felt forced to overcompensate while pitching without his usual substances.

“Does this mean that there’s automatically going to be a notable spike in pitcher injuries? No,” I wrote in a column about the subject last month. “Does it mean that pitchers have good reason to feel unsettled about suddenly needing to change their approach? Yes.” It was clear that players were breaking the rules—but given that the league had turned a blind eye for years and let the problem fester for so long, with teams incentivizing pitchers to boost their spin rate by any means possible, I worried that a midseason crackdown might just erode trust between the players and the league. While sticky stuff had long been against the rules, it was not only overlooked by most clubs, but actually implicitly encouraged, and I worried about the consequences of eliminating it so suddenly. I could imagine it frustrating both pitchers who felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath them and hitters who might be worried about safety. Perhaps, I thought, it would have been better if the league had waited until the offseason to implement these changes—giving players time to adjust and providing an opportunity to consider alternatives (like approving a universal substance that improved grip without increasing spin too much).

And I was wrong! There are, of course, players who have spoken out about their frustration with the need to adjust midseason. But the crackdown has not proved itself as some hugely disruptive feature that erodes trust. It has not come with widespread concerns of health or safety, and it has not come with logistical issues or even, for the majority of pitchers, serious performance issues.

Instead, it has come with something far more refreshing: It’s come with a step toward leveling the playing field.

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