Effects of banning sticky substances on Red Sox rotation

Contributing Writer

It all started when MLB told all the teams on 23 March that it would be monitoring spin-rate data and collecting balls after play to check for sticky substances used by pitcher.

ESPN reported that they were not happy with what they found.

"Based on the information collected over the first two months of the season -- including numerous complaints from position players, pitchers, umpires, coaches and executives -- there is a prevalence of foreign substance use by pitchers in Major League Baseball and throughout the minor leagues,'' MLB said.

A prevalence of use.

They also found "...dark, amber-colored markings that are sticky to the touch."

Third party researchers were used to verify the sticky substances and here we are with the official notice sent out yesterday in which MLB stated, "In addition, the foreign substance use appears to contribute to a style of pitching in which pitchers sacrifice location in favor of spin and velocity, particularly with respect to elevated fastballs. The evidence does not suggest a correlation between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances.''

On 3 June MLB provided warnings of a crackdown coming to an all-hands owners meetings. Fastball spin rates averaged 2,306-2,329 revolutions per minute according to MLB Statcast data at this point.

The next two weeks the fastball spin rates dropped to 2,282 and 2,226.

Is rosin enough?

While there has been a huge amount of dissent, disgust, anger, and denials, one thing is sure to remain. Since the beginning of time, baseball pitchers use sweat and rosin from the bag behind the mound for grip, so the question on our minds, is this enough?

Pedro Martinez shows us how he used rosin and how effective it can be when you "burn it" by rubbing it between your fingers to heat it.
The image at the top of this article is an unconfirmed demonstration by Trevor Bauer showing how effective a ball can be made to stick to a hand with just sweat and rosin.

One would believe that pitchers could and should be able to make in season adjustments as needed when losing the use of other stick substances. Not all pitchers agree, such as Tyler Glasnow from the Tampa Bay Rays who injured his UCL this week and was very vocal at having to change his mechanics due to the lack of stick substances.
Is Glasnow a casualty of the lack of sticky substances or just another in a long list of Tampa Bay Rays pitching products that throw upper 90's all game long and eventually blow out elbows?

Back to Bauer and the Dodgers. 

The Houston Chronicle reported on 7 June that spin rates are up by about a half-percent league-wide this year, and the Dodgers have the largest increase. They apparently jumping their spin rate as a staff by 7.04 percent over last season, almost twice as much as any other team.

The day before Bauer started against the Braves and , assuming he was heeding MLB's warnings used some degree less of the sticky substances, gave up 6 H, 4 BB, 3 R over 6 IP. All of that with a spin rate on his fastball that dipped more than 200 RPM.

What about the Yankees?

On Thursday of that same week, assuming Gerrit Cole of the Yankees was also stepping away from the sticky substances, CBS sport reported that his spin rates were down across the board on all of his pitches. He allowed five runs in five innings against the Rays with a spin rate dipping almost 6% on his pitches.

Red Sox rotation

Have the Red Sox rotation taken heed to these developments or are they also having a hard time adjusting to the sticky-less substance experience as the rest of the league?

The Boston Herald reported that on June 4, Nathan Eovaldi started against the Yankees and threw six strong innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out seven. Normal start for Eovaldi, but a closer look a the Statcast data told a different story.

Eovaldi’s spin rates dipped on most of his pitches. Spin rates were down 26 RPM on his cutter, down 30 RPM on his slider, down 51 RPM on his fastball and down 166 RPM on his splitter.

A day later in Eduardo Rodriguez’s start, his spin rate on the changeup dropped 196 RPM. In his next start after that, his favourite changeup dropped again 96 RPM.

Next up was Nick Pivetta, who saw his slider dip 64 RPM and his curve down 24 RPM. In his next start after that, the spin rate on his curve dropped.

Last Sunday after Martin Perez was shelled for five runs on just four recorded outs, and was asked about sticky substances due to a 40 RPM decrease on his sinker and cutter. 

“I’m not a cheater pitcher,” Perez said afterwards. “I’ve been around for a long time and I don’t use that kind of stuff. I just go out there and compete with what I have that day. I don’t put anything on my arm, I don’t put anything on my glove. Whoever did, it’s their problem.

“It’s not that we’ve not been doing good, not pitching good for three or four days, because of sticky things. No. It’s because we aren’t locating the pitches where we want it. If we go back again and throw the pitch where we want it, it’s going to be fine. But it’s not because we’ve been using sticking things. No way.”

While that's a fairly emphatic no to the use of sticky substances, across MLB the spin rates are dropping on pitchers across the board. With a 10-game suspension hanging over your head if caught using sticky substances other than sweat and rosin, pitchers are going to have to make another adjustment.

This is nothing new, as pitchers work on mechanics, pitches, and game attack plans almost on a day-to-day basis. While ERA's will climb and strikeouts will decrease, pitchers will adapt and the Red Sox rotation will be attempting to do the same. 

They have to figure out how to reduce 10 game starts with a team ERA over 8.00, that's just asking the offence to do too much day in and day out to stay in the hunt for October baseball.

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.