ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball's crackdown on pitchers using illegal substances, or 'sticky stuff', is on the way.
The league's plans to address pitch-doctoring were rapidly accelerated last week during owners meetings, where an "alarming" amount of evidence forced the league's hand to take action much sooner than expected.
"It's become clear that maybe there are guys that are using things that are considered foreign substances," said Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson. "[The league has] a rule on the books that they've gotta make a decision on how they're going to enforce it. I think based on that, you're going to see guys make changes or do things in a different manner to try and conform to that rule."
"Nobody," he added, "is above that rule."
You may think this is just a conspiracy theory or possibly the whole story may be overblown. Yankees star pitcher Gerrit Cole, one who has been in the center of speculation throughout this ordeal, threw gas on the fire on Tuesday when he was asked a simple yes or no question: Have you ever used Spider Tack while pitching?
He opted to not answer with a simple "yes" or "no".
Per multiple reports, it won't be too much longer until umpires begin checking every pitcher that comes to the mound for illegal substances.
"We've made our players very aware of it," said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. "They're not going to be surprised by anything that happens, whether that's completely done with any foreign substance, meaning pine tar, sunscreen and rosin, anything like that. If that's all out, our guys will be ready for it."
Just the threat of MLB stepping in and saying "no more" in the coming days has caused spin rates from some of the game's best hurlers to decrease in recent days.
"That's the one of the beauties [of it]," said Gibson. "Everybody has to play under the same rules. When they start figuring out how they're going to enforce it, I think you're going to see more people doing the same thing."
"You might see a few more balls go to the backstop," Woodward added.
With the public knowledge of pitchers using concocted substances rapidly growing, will managers finally handle this in a different way? Or will they strictly leave it to the umpires?
"The only time I would do that now is if I were to get a memo on my desk that says, 'We're going to police everybody on every foreign substances,'" said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. "Then I know I have to tell my team that I'm now going to start policing it. If I see something, I'm going to call the umpire out to force them to check his glove, check his hat, whatever we think it is. And I need to know my guys aren't doing anything. That's where we have to communicate with our guys beforehand and say, 'hey, enough. You can't do it anymore.' And if that's the case and I believe confidently that our guys aren't doing anything, then I can walk out there and actually address it with an umpire."
This is one of the main reasons why the issue has been swept under the rug for so long. In short, umpires only checked pitchers for illegal substances if one of the managers requested it. However, we've seldom witnessed managers doing this because in doing so, they would be putting their own pitchers in the line of fire.
No matter how much a manager says "don't do it" and believes his pitchers don't use foreign substances, there's never been a way to fully know with 100 percent certainty.
So, managers kept their mouths shut. And it will stay that way until things officially change.
"Until then," Woodward added, "no manager is going to do it."
Chris Woodward had a 12-year playing career in the big leagues, and played in the latter half of the steroid era, which notoriously gave hitters an advantage over pitchers. And the vast majority of hitters who have been known to use have been kept out of the Hall Of Fame.
It wasn't all that long ago when Woodward retired from playing in 2011. But even from his playing days until now, the issue of pitchers using substances — in his eyes — has drastically changed.
"It's definitely evolved," Woodward said. "First of all, we didn't have the data. We didn't have the information to even know a sticky substance would add 400 rpm. We didn't even know what RPMs were. We didn't understand from a spin rate standpoint how it would make somebody better. That was not part of the vernacular in baseball."
Baseball has always been a game where players, coaches, and managers have always tried to find a way to gain an advantage. Sometimes those lines get blurred. What was once maybe a way to help grip the baseball better — which batters generally don't mind because they don't want to get a fastball in the ribs — has turned into a trend of trying to drastically increase spin rates.
"They've always used something. They always knew that, 'hey, when I really rip my slider, it's better. It's nasty,'" Woodward explained. "There was no data behind it though. Now there's legitimate data behind everything. Now you see guys' spin rate go up on their fastball, and now it's like, 'oh, I can throw that ball at the top of the zone against Mike Trout, let alone everybody else. But now I can throw it to the best hitters in the world and know they're going to miss it.' Then you have all the science behind everything. When you throw that pitch, it's literally six inches higher than the hitter thinks, it gives you a ton of conviction to throw that pitch. It's not like, 'Hey, I'm gonna trust this pitch.' You know they're not gonna hit it."
There are those that believe what some pitchers are doing nowadays is flat out cheating. Others, like Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, don't have much of an issue with it. With the league batting average at .236, which would be an all-time low over an entire season, MLB has to figure out just how pervasive the problem is throughout the game.
Some believe, as expressed in Sports Illustrated's story from last week, we are witnessing "rampant cheating to a degree not seen since the steroid era."
"I played in that era," Woodward said. "I had a lot of teammates that took it. I had a lot of teammates that talked openly about it, and how it took them from a mediocre big leaguer to all of a sudden, some of these guys were superstars. This, on one side of the ball, [pitchers] have a huge advantage. Hitters are suffering more than ever because of it."
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