After weeks of talk on Twitter, years of speculation, and hundreds of YouTube videos calling out pitchers for cheating, MLB has finally caught up with the times.
Earlier this week, Major League Baseball announced that — starting on June 21st — the league will be enhancing its enforcement of Rules 3.01 and 6.02 (c) and (d). These are the MLB official rules that prohibit pitchers from applying foreign substances on baseballs. Major League Baseball already made an effort to crack down on pitchers using illegal substances at the start of the season. On March 23, the league announced that the MLB Commissioner’s Office would be devoting research toward monitoring game-used balls for foreign substances, using Statcast data to monitor rapid increases in spin rates, and monitoring dugouts before games. However, in MLB’s announcement today, they recognized that those existing measures to prevent pitchers from using illegal substances have not been effective.
In order to address the ongoing issue, MLB has dictated that umpires across Major and Minor League Baseball shall be allowed to inspect pitchers for substances regularly, even without a request from the opposing coach. The punishment for breaking the new substance abuse policy will be an automatic ejection and a 10-game suspension. The 10-game suspension was the precedent set earlier this year when White Sox minor league pitcher Marcus Evey was ejected from one of his outings on May 13 after umpires determined that he was using a prohibited sticky substance.
On June 3, MLB vowed to crack down on pitchers using foreign substances. Between the start of the season and the end of May, MLB had seen a league-wide batting average of .237 — tied for the lowest mark in MLB history. In the 11 days since MLB voiced its concern with the vast amount of cheating going on among pitchers across MLB, the league batting average has been closer to .247. Strikeout rates have also dipped — if only by a margin — from 24.2 percent to 23.4 percent.
“We have learned through our research that the more traditional substances can be used for competitive advantage just like the more modern substances, and it is not practical for umpires to differentiate on the field,” said Michael Hill, MLB’s Senior Vice President of On-Field Operations,.”The new guidance issued today will put everyone on a level playing field.”
President of the Major League Umpires Association, Bill Miller, expressed his support for the new rules: “Major League Umpires stand in support of this initiative to eliminate the use of foreign substances in the game...The integrity of the competition is of utmost importance to us. We have worked diligently with MLB to develop an enforcement system that will treat all players and Clubs equally.”
Some players have come forward with their thoughts on the matter as well. Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Steven Souza Jr. said on the matter: “Those of you who suddenly found a nasty slider/curveball via Spider tack, see ya! Those of you who already had a nasty breaking ball, it’ll be fun to compete against you again.”
St. Louis Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty had a much simpler response to the MLB’s announcement:
Pitchers like New York Yankees star Gerrit Cole and reigning NL Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer have been at the forefront of MLB’s war against foreign substances in 2021. In June, those two have combined for 23.1 innings pitched, while allowing 14 earned runs, 25 hits, 8 walks, and 31 strikeouts. On June 3, Gerrit Cole surrendered five earned runs in a loss to the Rays. It was just the fifth time since 2018 that Cole had allowed five or more earned runs in a start. Meanwhile Bauer has allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last three starts. Since the start of 2020, Bauer only has three other such starts.