MLB Players Concerned About Pitchers' Use of Foreign Substances amid No-Hitter Surge

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 21, 2021

The Major League Baseball logo serves as the visitor's on deck circle before a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, April 24, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Major League baseball players have serious concerns about pitchers' use of foreign substances on the ball amid a year where hitters are struggling mightily at the plate.

Ken Rosenthal and Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic discussed the matter with numerous players and coaches in an article that dropped on Friday.

“It is getting out of hand,” one American League pitcher said.

“When you watch some of these guys from the dugout you can almost hear the ball ripping out of their hands. Guys are doing stuff now that you can’t do to a baseball with just your hand. You just can’t.”

Batters are collectively hitting just .236 this season, per FanGraphs. That mark would be the lowest in baseball history.

The Seattle Mariners, who have been no-hit twice this year, are notably hitting .198. Only two teams (the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox) are hitting over .260.

In addition, batters have posted a 24.1 percent strikeout rate, which would also be No. 1 in league history. Ten franchises have strikeout rates of 25 percent or higher, per FanGraphs.

The MLB season has also seen six no-hitters. At the current rate, the 2021 season would shatter the record for most no-hitters in a year (seven) set in 1990, 1991 and 2014.

As Rosenthal and Ghiroli noted, there's more that goes into MLB's hitting decline.

"The power-driven approaches of hitters, use of pitchers in shorter bursts, rise of defensive shifts and deadening of the ball this season all are potentially contributing to the pitching dominance," the duo wrote.

However, the use of foreign substances has drawn the ire and annoyance of many people in the game.

“It’s pretty frustrating picking up a foul ball and seeing it covered in sticky stuff,” Marlins outfielder Adam Duvall told The Athletic. “At the end of the day, you would like to know that you are on a level playing field with your opponent. That doesn’t seem to be the case at times.”

Duvall is hitting .226 with a 31.7 percent strikeout rate, although he leads Miami with eight home runs and 30 RBI.

One National League pitcher even compared what pitchers are doing to the steroid era, which was highlighted by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa each breaking Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998.

“It’s the same thing as [Sammy] Sosa and [Mark] McGwire bopping all those home runs. Everyone knew, at least everyone on the inside, knew what they were doing. And then you have guys who are like, ‘I better do something or I won’t have a job.’ And then you have guys who are on the fence like, ‘Will I sell my soul for ‘X’ amount of money?’ And a lot of them are going to say yes.
“The league talks about a level playing field, but how is this level?”

Doctoring the ball is illegal in MLB's rules.

Per MLB.com: "No player is permitted to intentionally damage, deface or discolor the baseball by rubbing it with any type of foreign item or substance, including dirt or saliva. Failure to follow this rule will result in an ejection and an automatic 10-game suspension."

Per The Athletic, MLB senior vice president of on-field operations Michael Hill sent a memo to teams in March, writing that the league is investigating the situation. MLB is reportedly collecting foul balls for further inspection, which includes conducting a spin-rate analysis.

"The Central office data collection is ongoing," an MLB official told The Athletic.

For now, the pitchers maintain a significant edge over hitters to an extent not seen since 1968, when hurlers dominated so much that the league lowered the mound from 15 to 10 inches following the season.