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Elephant Rumblings: MLB players face harder scrutiny on doping, sticky stuff in 2022

MLB news roundup

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the weekend, Athletics Nation!

The A’s got their second win of the spring yesterday against the Brewers, and we are two weeks away from Opening Day. Once the season does begin, players across MLB will be facing two forms of further scrutiny from the league.

First, as detailed in the New York Times, due to the expiration of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement in December of last year, the randomized drug testing players must undergo was fully suspended. The lockout of players that was enacted by Commissioner Rob Manfred meant that there was no legal authority for the league to test players until a new CBA was signed. This means that any players who foresaw the three months that the lockout lasted could have partaken in performance enhancing drugs during the period they went untested.

A sport scientist interviewed by the Times explained that while larger injections of steroids used could be still detectable by the time that testing resumed, lower dose oils and creams could be used and be undetectable before players could be tested. The plausible scenario specifically mentioned was players using said creams while training without team oversight, and working to gain muscle mass. Then, when players return for the season their gains will stay for months, while the traces of substances are gone right away.

The A’s enter 2022 with Ramon Laureano waiting out the remaining 27 games of an 80 game suspension from a previous positive test for nandrolone. Hopefully their roster won’t face any more suspensions this year from players taking advantage of the lapse in testing.

The other crackdown MLB players will face this season is further scrutiny regarding pitchers using ‘sticky stuff’ to exert extra control over the ball. As reported on by Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated, the league issued a memo to all teams yesterday building upon the checks that were started last June.

Umpires will continue randomly inspecting pitchers hands, hats, belts, and gloves as was done for the second half of last season. Inspections will be expected more than once per game for starters, at least once for relievers, and can be performed on other position players as well. New to this season are harsher restrictions on pitcher conduct around hands and testing, specifically as stated in the memo:

“If an umpire observes a pitcher attempt to wipe off his hands prior to an inspection he may be subject to immediate ejection.”

The renewed vigilance on pitchers substances is due to spin rate picking back up by the end of last season, after the dramatic drop off when pitcher testing began on June 21. The use of gripping substances was somewhat of an open secret across baseball, with a mixed reception across pitchers and batters. Once MLB announced that pitchers would be checked for sticky stuff by umpires mid-game, four-seamer spin rates dropped on average by about 400rpm, and that was matched by an increase in batting average against the pitch from .219 to .263.

Spin rate numbers began climbing again by the end of the 2021 season, though not matching their pre-June peak. According to Verducci there is some speculation that players figured out ways to hide substances outside of their hats, gloves, and belts, hence the addition of hands to checks. There were some dramatic checks last year at the onset of testing, including then-National Max Scherzer being checked three times in four innings leading to Phillies manager Joe Girardi being ejected, and new Mariners signee Sergio Romo dropping trou in Oakland foul territory upon his first checks of the year.

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