It seems a fire has been lit under Major League Baseball’s top brass. Yesterday, in response to the sport’s widely discussed “sticky stuff” controversy, the league publicized a memo detailing how it plans to crack down on pitchers’ usage of foreign substances. It’s an issue that had been quietly boiling for the past few years and is now the league’s most contentious topic, putting spin rate in the spotlight.
The Astros have been at the forefront of the spin rate revolution dating back to the Jeff Luhnow era. The front office recognized the value of high spin rates and targeted specific pitchers accordingly. Additionally, the organization received attention — perhaps unfairly — for its purported ability to notably increase pitchers’ spin rates ($).
Roughly two weeks ago, MLB acknowledged it needed to remedy the foreign substance problem and would amplify their enforcement methods. After that announcement, several pitchers’ spin rates began to decline significantly. Chief among them was Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer, as his four-seam fastball’s average spin rate has dipped by more than 200 revolutions per minute in recent outings. According to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, an eye-catching deviation is around 200 RPMs, as his research indicated the use of Spider Tack and similar substances can increase spin rates by upwards of 200 RPMs.
Fastball spin rates have been under the microscope since MLB put pitchers on alert earlier this month. In that time span, not one Astros hurler has seen a decrease of 100 RPMs on their fastball, and many have a discrepancy under 50 RPMs.
Four-seam fastball average spin rate
|Ryan Pressly||2551||2573||Plus 22|
|Brooks Raley||2473||2455||Minus 18|
|Enoli Paredes||2412||2341||Minus 71|
|Brandon Bielak||2420||2393||Minus 27|
|Cristian Javier||2331||2329||Minus 2|
|Luis García||2303||2349||Plus 46|
|Zack Greinke||2258||2227||Minus 31|
|Ryne Stanek||2230||2248||Plus 18|
|José Urquidy||2192||2224||Plus 32|
|Framber Valdez||2212||2189||Minus 23|
This does not mean the Astros’ pitchers are totally innocent of doctoring baseballs. The utilization of different forms of sticky stuff has been simply too rampant. But there are levels to how effective various substances are.
Sarris and his colleague Britt Ghiroli recently penned an article ($) discussing the ins and outs of baseball’s new scandal. In it, anonymous players, coaches and executives estimated that as many as half of the league’s pitchers are using substances that greatly impact the quality of their stuff. The other half either do nothing or apply a mixture of rosin and sunscreen, which improves grip, but does not result in a substantial increase in spin ($).
In other words, some may have more to lose than others.
On the surface, it would seem that Astros pitchers do not fit that mold. It’s not an unreasonable notion to believe based on the lack of meaningful change in their spin rates this month.
June 21 is when MLB’s new rules and penalties will be put into effect. It might not even take until then for there to be compelling data alterations, so as to show who was using the “hard stuff” and who wasn’t.