Good morning, Athletics Nation!
Cheating has been a hot topic in baseball for the entire 21st century, from the Steroid Era to the Houston Astros stealing signs. Now MLB will crack down on another form: pitchers doctoring baseballs.
The league informed teams that it will analyze Statcast spin rates in an attempt to identify pitchers suspected of using foreign substances on baseballs, reports Joel Sherman of the NY Post. Plans also call for thorough monitoring of “dugouts, clubhouses, tunnels, batting cages and bullpens” by compliance officers, and random lab tests of game-used balls to check for illegal substances, adds Jeff Passan of ESPN. It’s not yet clear what penalties might result.
The use of pine tar, among other things, is a well-known and long-standing practice by pitchers to help them grip the ball better. The rulebook strictly prohibits it, but everyone mostly looks the other way and lets it go. Per Sherman:
But for years a gentlemen’s agreement existed not to challenge a pitcher, namely because so many were doing it that to challenge an opponent was to risk having your pitchers challenged as well. Also, even hitters were generally in favor of pitchers using something sticky, especially with slick balls in cold weather, to better control them and avoid those hitters being hit by pitches.
Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer has spoken out about the issue on multiple occasions, estimating that 70% of MLB pitchers do it, and pointing out the Astros in particular as a team that had figured out how to weaponize it at a systemic level.
Eno Sarris of The Athletic wonders if the answer might be to just legalize it, and have the league develop an approved sticky substance that everyone can use freely and equally — after all, if everyone prefers doing it then why not just let them, and level the playing field? Bauer agrees that there’s no possible way to fully and equitably enforce the current ban, and that the prohibition only opens an avenue for some teams/individuals to exploit for an unfair advantage.
But the league is instead choosing to lean into the existing rule, by significantly upping its enforcement in 2021. The increased velocity and spin rates that come with doctored balls is likely a factor in the recent Three True Outcomes revolution of strikeouts, walks, and homers, so this path clearly aligns with MLB’s stated goal of stemming that trend and manufacturing more batted-ball action.
Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors is skeptical about whether spin rates will be an effective tool in this investigation, given that there is no control-group baseline to compare against since pine tar predates Statcast. He does concede that it could help prevent pitchers from newly adopting the practice moving forward, and that examining the baseballs themselves could catch offenders.
Hot take: In general I’d probably agree with Sarris, that the best answer is to legalize it and regulate it. But if the league wants to decrease 3TO culture, then I’d rather they do it this way than by messing with the actual rules of the game. I’ll take no pine tar if it means we don’t need to have an automatic runner on second base in extra innings, or whatever other madness Rob Manfred might cook up next.
- Kroichick and Kawahara: A’s fans steamed about ticket rollout: ‘It’s very disheartening. Big disappointment’ ($)
- Kawahara: A’s ticket sales: Team president Dave Kaval on the backlash over the program ($)
- Kawahara: A’s Mark Canha readying for potential leadoff role ($)
- Gallegos: Tom makes strong case for outfield spot
- Lockard: How the A’s and Giants are preparing for the unknowns of minor-league spring training ($$$)
- The A’s won a lawsuit against Schnitzer Steel! Click here for a reminder of what it was about.
UPDATE: Boom We won the lawsuit! Today, Alameda County Superior Court made clear that the DTSC must require Schnitzer Steel to comply with hazardous waste control laws. Huge win for a safer and healthier West Oakland. https://t.co/FVvYxiGbDX https://t.co/bFSkPDNbZd pic.twitter.com/n65GGaXEta— Dave Kaval (@DaveKaval) March 24, 2021
MLB News & Interest
- Sherman: MLB finds new way to catch cheating pitchers
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- Stavenhagen: Daniel Norris wants to prove he’s not a disappointment, once and for all ($$$)
- Buchanan: Randy Johnson threw a fastball, and a bird disappeared: 20 years since baseball’s wildest moment ($$$)
- Today in Baseball History
- Spring Game #21: Jesús Luzardo strong on mound, Ka’ai Tom leads offense
- Spring Game #22: Daulton Jefferies dominates in best outing yet
- Spring Game #23: A’s bats stay hot in blowout win
- A’s bullpen looks nearly set after second round of spring cuts
- A’s spring injuries: Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty return to lineup
- A’s backup catcher competition heating up
- A’s option catcher Austin Allen to Triple-A
Lowrie looking like his old self
Jed Lowrie lookin good over at 2B pic.twitter.com/sLK8BoWxfT— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 24, 2021
... more Lowrie
Also from yesterday: sounds like Jed Lowrie's knee (knock on wood) fully healthy this spring and BoMel impressed with his defense pic.twitter.com/NtDIMk6Av4— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 23, 2021
Updates on A.J. Puk
Bob Melvin said A.J. Puk's next start on Saturday will be big in determining where he starts the regular season: "It’s going to be a big start for him to not only perform but be economical in his pitches to where he can be out there for a number of innings."— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) March 24, 2021
... more Puk
Puk's start Saturday will help determine if he's ready for the rotation, Melvin says: "It does factor in. We want someone that can at least go out there five innings, come opening day...It's going to be a big start for him, to not only perform but be economical with his pitches."— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) March 24, 2021
That tall child looks great
"That was huge for my confidence"— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 23, 2021
Jefferies on retiring 3 straight batters in the 2nd inning after giving up leadoff triple pic.twitter.com/lrU0i81kCR
Luzardo switching to contacts, but contact isn’t an option batters seem to have against him
Sounds like Jesus Luzardo is going to retire his rec specs pic.twitter.com/KuqybQJGzt— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 23, 2021
Laser is operational again after a brief side injury
Picking up right where we left off, Ramón. pic.twitter.com/fDUeCsuJqe— Oakland A's (@Athletics) March 23, 2021
... And so is Piscotty, after a brief wrist injury
Hard to see Tom not making the Opening Day roster
... but Seth Brown is ready to deliver too
Seth Brown hit a dinger yesterday as he battles with Ka'ai Tom for outfield spot pic.twitter.com/Zbis217V7u— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 24, 2021
Can the lefty build on last year’s All-MLB Team Finalist nod?
Jake Diekman's spring so far: 6 IP, no hits, no runs, one walk, seven strikeouts— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) March 23, 2021
Remember to keep an eye on the NRIs
Bob Melvin on LHP Reymin Guduan & RHP Deolis Guerra, neither of whom has allowed a run this spring: "I would be surprised if we didn't see either one of these guys at some point in time during the season."— Athletics Farm (@AthleticsFarm) March 22, 2021
Best of Twitter
AL West division rival signs a big extension with one of their starters
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. and the Houston Astros are in agreement on a five-year, $85 million contract extension, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 24, 2021
Former A’s prospect Heim makes the majors for his new team
Oh shoot - I left off Jonah Heim. ADDENDUM: Jonah Heim has also made the Opening Day roster.— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) March 25, 2021
But not a good week for Khris, beginning with ...
Khris Davis just took a 96 mph FB off the helmet. He's up and seemingly OK, but will leave the game. Another scary moment.— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) March 22, 2021
... but wait it got worse. He’s out a few weeks with a quad strain and will miss the beginning of the season.
Well there's a rollercoaster of emotions. Khris Davis pulls off a push bunt single (he was probably out, replay suggests) and then immediately leaves the game with some kind of leg injury.— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) March 23, 2021
At least the rest of the sport can finally learn to appreciate Semien
Marcus Semien is said to have been a great add for Jays infield and clubhouse mix. They obviously paid a big price ($18M) on 1-year deal but it’s looking like a wise move.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 23, 2021
Former A’s minor leaguer Matt Harvey
The Orioles announce they have selected the contract of RHP Matt Harvey. He had an opt-out that could be triggered Wednesday and Os had 48 hours after that to add him or release him. The club’s 40-man roster is now — currently — full.— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) March 25, 2021
The El Toro High School of Pitching
The Braves’ Max Fried joins the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty and White Sox’s Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starters from the same high school - Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles. All three also share the same agent, CAA’s Ryan Hamill.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 25, 2021
“Wow, Romo didn’t even look pregnant” - AN member A’s Brand Merlot
If you’re wondering why Sergio Romo hasn’t pitched in a while...he just had another baby!— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) March 23, 2021
Get a head start on planning your tailgates for circa 2025!
The western side of the site cannot be developed for at least five years when the Port considers the expanded turning basin. That side of the site will be surface parking. Perfect for waterfront tailgating. https://t.co/iVqCxkDu0z— Dave Kaval (@DaveKaval) March 23, 2021
From the coach who brought us “Mr. Bloopy” a couple days ago
Reminds me of when I asked Scott Emerson about tunnelling and he told me he’s called it “tree branching” for decades. https://t.co/42jyNVTaYE— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) March 23, 2021
... one more from Emerson
I’ve also heard something like, we didn’t have Plyo balls we’d just toss a baseball into the lake and throw it— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) March 23, 2021