Clay Buchholz vs. Jack Morris: Who Should You Believe in 'Cheating' Accusations?

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Clay Buchholz vs. Jack Morris: Who Should You Believe in 'Cheating' Accusations?
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz is the early favorite for the American League Cy Young Award. He's won each of his first six starts, racking up a major league-best 1.01 ERA along the way.

And he's doing it all because he's a no-good cheater.

This according to longtime pitcher and current Toronto Blue Jays TV analyst Jack Morris. Also accusing Buchholz of cheating is former major league pitcher, current Blue Jays radio analyst and fantastic writer, Dirk Hayhurst.

Morris and Hayhurst believe Buchholz is doctoring the baseball, and their accusations should not be written off as mere sour grapes. The two of them actually have a case.

But first let's hear the arguments.

The accusations stem from Buchholz's most recent start against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday. He went seven innings and allowed only two hits while striking out eight.

As far as Buchholz's performances this season go, it was a fairly typical start. But Morris and Hayhurst think Buchholz was so successful because he was spitballing.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Morris told Edes he once fooled around with a spitter in a bullpen session.

"I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game," Morris told Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com. "I didn't see it during the game. They showed it to me and said, 'What do you think of this?' and I said, 'Well, he's throwing a spitter. Cause that's what it is."

"The guys" may have brought the footage to Morris' attention because of Hayhurst, who got the ball rolling on the accusations with remarks on Sportsnet's Baseball Central and a subsequent tweet:

Morris echoed this remark.

"It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it's all in his hair," he said.

But then Morris admitted: "I can't prove anything. I can't prove anything."

Neither could the Blue Jays. They didn't even think to prove anything while Buchholz was on the mound, in fact, as manager John Gibbons never asked the umpiring crew to inspect Buchholz.

As for the defense in this case, the Red Sox have a pretty decent alibi.

"He's got rosin on his arm," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Buchholz, via ESPNBoston.com. "He's not loading up; he's got rosin on his arm. As soon as someone pitches well or does well, they're cheating."

Buchholz also played the rosin card:

Loading up with what, rosin? I get wet from my hair. Are they talking about the stains on my shirt? There probably are stains on my shirt, because I've been wearing the same shirt for the last three years.

I'm doing the same thing right now as I did in 2008, when I was sent down to Double-A. But I guess something's got to be wrong, right?

Now, Major League Baseball's official rules for pitchers state that no "foreign substance" is allowed on the ball. But this is rosin we're talking about. It's legal and readily available, and pitchers have been known to use it liberally.

You don't notice certain things when you watch baseball games on TV, but you've probably seen a pitcher walk off the mound, grab the rosin bag and then coat himself in the stuff. It's not uncommon to see pitchers pat the rosin bag on their hips or—gasp!—their forearms.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com

Remember when the rosin bag exploded on Pittsburgh Pirates hurler A.J. Burnett earlier this season? You probably do. If you don't, the video of it is on the right for your viewing pleasure.

Before the funny part happens, watch where Burnett goes with the rosin bag. First he went to his right hip, and then he went for his left forearm.

Technically, Burnett broke the rules the minute he applied rosin anywhere other than his bare right hand.

A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.

But do pitchers put rosin everywhere anyway? Absolutely.

Do they ever get punished for it? No. This is just one of those rules that isn't enforced, so Buchholz shouldn't be admonished any more than any other pitcher for breaking it.

Was it actually rosin that Hayhurst saw on Buchholz's left forearm? Even he admitted it could have been:

Here's a better look at Buchholz's left forearm:

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

You can see the white streak better here. Rosin is white, so yeah, the likely explanation is that that was rosin on Buchholz's left arm. Technically against the rules, but nothing out of the ordinary.

It's the wetness that looks more suspicious. Buchholz's left arm was pretty slick on Wednesday night, and that part's harder to explain.

If Buchholz is to be believed, it was nothing but sweat. He sweats just like any other pitcher, and he told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca that he doesn't mind using it:

Put rosin on my arm throughout the game. Sweat, water, whatever. … Sometimes I put a little thing of water on my hip just to get moisture on your hands. Cause sometimes the balls that they throw to you feel like cue balls off a pool table. Got to find a way to get grip. But yeah, I mean, definitely no foreign objects or substances on my arm.

There's a little too much honesty going on here, but this is another case where Buchholz is basically claiming to be like most other pitchers. They all do something to get a grip, and sweat and water can be pretty useful to that end.

But there's always the possibility that it wasn't really sweat or water on Buchholz's left arm. 

Hayhurst, who admitted in Out of My League that he knows a thing or two about how pitchers doctor the ball, heard it was something else. He wrote on Friday that sources told him it was sunscreen that was on Buchholz's left arm despite the fact the roof at Rogers Centre was closed.

Sunscreen doesn't come from the human body, and it's one of the stickier substances out there, so it certainly qualifies as a "foreign substance." If that's what Buchholz was using, then he was indeed cheating.

The visual evidence doesn't work in Buchholz's favor. We've already seen just how slick his left arm was on Wednesday night, and Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noticed that Buchholz's right arm was much drier by comparison. That puts the "sweat" excuse on shaky ground.

So do a couple of images from years past. Take a look at Buchholz's left forearm in this shot from 2010:

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

And this shot from 2011:

Al Bello/Getty Images

And this shot from last season:

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

There's some shine going on here, but nothing quite like what Buchholz had going on Wednesday night. His arm looked like it was drenched in something.

Are these images conclusive? No. But they do lend validity to Morris' and Hayhurst's accusations, which is a point for them.

Then there's the matter of Buchholz's pitches. If he was spitballing, the proof would be in the movement, right?

That's a point Morris made by referencing the kind of movement Buchholz's fastball had on Wednesday. Edes recalled the following exchange with Morris:

Asked if he believed the action of Buchholz's pitches suggested he was throwing a spitter, Morris said, "What do you think? Look at the pitches. Fastball at 94 that goes like that," Morris said, his hand darting swiftly down and away. "On a fastball?"

If you go and watch the highlights of Buchholz's start over at MLB.com, you'll see some fastballs with the kind of action Morris was talking about. In particular, check out the movement on the last two fastballs in the clip. It's insane.

Was Clay Buchholz cheating in his last start?

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Now, Buchholz has always had plus stuff, and David Schoenfield of ESPN.com noted that the average movement Buchholz has been getting on his fastball this season is about the same as last year. The guy's stuff moves, plain and simple.

But it may have been moving too much on Wednesday night. Whereas his fastball has generally averaged roughly minus-4.7 inches of horizontal break the last two seasons, Schoenfield noted that Buchholz's fastball was averaging minus-5.5 inches of horizontal break on Wednesday night. That's no small increase.

So Buchholz either had an unusually good feel for his fastball on Wednesday, or he had an unusually good grip on his fastball. Based on what we've seen and heard, it very well could have been the latter.

Case closed?

I'm not going that far yet. There are just good reasons to be suspicious, meaning that Morris and Hayhurst should be cut some slack rather than attacked—I'm looking in your general direction, Dennis Eckersley. Their accusations against Buchholz have some legs.

For now, I'm calling a recess in this case. In the meantime, pay close attention to Buchholz in his next start. If his forearm looks drier than it did on Wednesday night, flashing red lights should go off. If his fastball isn't moving as much, the alarms should sound.

And if a dry forearm and flat stuff lead to him getting crushed for the first time all season, Buchholz may have admitted his own guilt.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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