Report: MLB Umpires May Randomly Check Pitchers for Foreign Substances During Games

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Umpires reportedly will begin to “repeatedly and randomly check pitchers for foreign substances” to curb the use of illicit advantages on the mound, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

There could be as many as eight or 10 checks during the course of a game, and the initiative could begin within two weeks.

Much has been made about the lack of offense across MLB. According to FanGraphs, MLB hitters are collectively batting .236 with a .395 slugging percentage. They’re also striking out in 24.1 percent of their plate appearances.

A number of factors are combining to create the problem, and one likely cause is the extent to which pitchers are altering baseballs.

Sports Illustrated‘s Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt provided three anecdotes that shed light on the situation:

“One ball made its way into an NL dugout last week, where players took turns touching a palm to the sticky material coating it and lifting the baseball, adhered to their hand, into the air. Another one, corralled in a different NL dugout, had clear-enough fingerprints indented in the goo that opponents could mimic the pitcher’s grip. A third one, also in the NL, was so sticky that when an opponent tried to pull the glue off, three inches of seams came off with it.”

The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman reported in March that MLB officials would start using Statcast data to see whether data such as spin rate is spiking with a certain pitcher.

Olney’s report would seem to imply that measure didn’t go far enough to address the issue.

The implications of widespread ball doctoring go beyond offensive numbers, too.

Apstein and Prewitt drew a parallel to the steroid era, when position players felt a level of implicit pressure to take banned substances in order to boost their production. Pitchers who have lower spin rates might not move up through the minor league system, and one MLB reliever explained how using sticky substances on baseballs doesn’t carry the physical side effects steroids do.

“The calculus is whoever gets outs better gets to play major league baseball,” the reliever said. “There’s some guys that might have a moral dilemma about it, but I’m not one of those guys. It’s not bad for your health. Steroids … could kill you. That’s different than washing your hands of stick at the end of the game.”

Perhaps having umpires maintain a more watchful eye as games happen could curb the use of foreign substances.

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