Major League Baseball’s latest scandal is one of physics, advanced metrics and sticky stuff — extremely sticky stuff. But the league, as it normally does, is handling it all wrong and creating a disaster for pitchers and hitters across the sport.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Substances like Spider Tack, Pelican Wax or Bull Frog sunscreen should never have a place in the game. Pitchers who use those substances are not looking for pinpoint command or a better grip on the baseball — they are looking solely for increased spin, which in turn increases movement and swings and misses by hitters.
Sticky substances ensure the baseball stays connected with a pitcher’s fingers for longer, creating more torque and movement as it rolls off the fingers. And therein lies the problem: the extra movement created by foreign substances.
But there’s an important distinction to be made between Spider Tack and less extreme substances, like pine tar or rosin and sunscreen.
For more than a century, pitchers have used foreign substances to get a better grip on the baseball, ensuring in most cases that hitters aren’t hit by pitches. While MLB technically has a rule against any foreign substance on the baseball, it’s been accepted convention to allow the use of these substances for most of the league’s existence.
The problem facing baseball now is that pitchers have crossed the line from using foreign substances to control where the ball goes, to using it to increase spin rate and thus increase swing and misses.
This is a problem that should be solved. Offense is down to historic lows, with some pitchers — like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer — using sticky substances to become some of the best players in the game.
But MLB’s solution to this problem is fundamentally flawed. They’ve decided to address it with a total ban on any foreign substance besides rosin, in the middle of the season, no less. This means pitchers have zero opportunity to adjust to the reality of not even rosin and sunscreen, a combination used by pitchers for decades and accepted by most hitters.
This has left many pitchers in difficult places. Offense will increase, but so too will injuries. Tyler Glasnow, one of the best and most exciting young pitchers in baseball, has a partially torn UCL and strained flexor tendon — two injuries that indicate a need for Tommy John surgery, which would leave him out of commission for at least a year.
While Glasnow’s team, the Tampa Bay Rays, are avoiding the surgery for now by shutting down his throwing for four weeks, Glasnow has blamed the injury on having to adjust his grips because of the lack of foreign substances.
"I switched my fastball grip and my curveball grip," Glasnow said in a video conference. "I had to put my fastball deeper into my hand and grip it way harder. Instead of holding my curveball at the tip of my fingers, I had to dig it deeper into my hand. I’m choking the s--- out of all my pitches.”
Even if MLB was to still enforce this total ban, it would be far smarter to do so in the offseason, when pitchers have time to adjust.
Another reason to wait on implementing the ban is as simple as the historical significance of statistics from this year. Like the steroid era, statistics from pitchers and hitters will have to be viewed with an extra level of context.
“Freddie Freeman had a great 2021 season, but his second-half numbers were so much better. It must have been the sticky stuff,” some might say. Or: “Jacob deGrom had a phenomenal first half but was much worse later on. I guess he just can’t pitch without foreign substances.”
Changing the rules of the game halfway through the season creates an environment where player accomplishments won’t be taken seriously. For any sport, that should be viewed as a death sentence.
MLB’s sticky substance conundrum is something that needs to be addressed for the good of the game. But for the sake of the sport, it should be done at the end of the season, not halfway through.
Unbiased, Unfiltered. WBOB's Original Reads feature our brightest and boldest personalities, offering their two-cents on the goings on of news, sports, politics, entertainment, and business. -- Are our opinions always PC? Nope. Are they always perfect? Nah. But, are they always 100% authentic? Absolutely!