MLB Memo Details New Rules to Monitor Foreign Substances Used on Balls

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Texas Rangers pitchers Cole Hamels, right, and Yu Darvish talk about gripping the ball during spring training baseball practice Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Major League Baseball is set to send a memo to its 30 teams informing them of increased efforts to rein in the use of foreign substances by pitchers through the use of advanced technology during the 2021 season. 

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported Tuesday that MLB plans to utilize its Statcast tracking system to see whether pitchers see a substantial uptick in their spin rate based on their career average, or if a pitcher suddenly increases their spin rate in critical situations during a game.

ESPN's Jeff Passan provided further details from the memo Wednesday:

Jeff Passan @JeffPassan

Compliance officers will monitor dugouts, clubhouses, tunnels, batting cages and bullpens. They will take a random sample of balls, and the lab will search not just for the substances themselves but the type being utilized. Statcast data will compare spin rate to career norms.

In February 2020, analytics-minded starting pitcher Trevor Bauer wrote an article for The Players' Tribune saying he identified the advantages of increasing your spin rate in 2012, his rookie year with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and worked to improve his through technique and training.

He explained the plan didn't work without the benefit of adding foreign substances to the ball, something he alleged the Houston Astros were able to utilize better than most other clubs.

"Baseball will never address that problem unless it has to, though, because I would guess 70 percent of the pitchers in the league use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball," Bauer wrote. "It's just that some organizations really know how to weaponize that and some don't. So the Astros are super advanced analytically and they know how to weaponize it."

The 30-year-old right-hander, who won the NL Cy Young Award with the Cincinnati Reds last season before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency on a three-year, $102 million contract, later described foreign substances as a "bigger advantage than steroids."

In January, former Los Angeles Angels visiting clubhouse manager Brian "Bubba" Harkins filed a defamation lawsuit after being fired last March. Harkins argued he was used as a scapegoat for a practice that was basically an open secret within the sport.

Harkins confirmed he provided "pine tar-like mixtures" to both the Angels' staff and opposing pitchers, but did not personally doctor any baseballs. The Astros' Justin Verlander and the New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole, who previously pitched for Houston, were among the pitchers mentioned in the lawsuit.

The former Angels employee said Verlander reached out after he was fired to say it's unfair he was let go from his position for something MLB has allowed to "go on for 100 years."

In 2014, former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced the league planned to investigate whether pitchers should be allowed to use pine tar or another sticky substance for grip purposes. The results of that study were never publicly released.

The 2021 MLB season is set to begin April 1.