Baseball players have known for quite a while that some type of crackdown on the use of sticky substances by pitchers was coming. They just didn’t know what it would look like. What substances would be banned? What types of punishments would be handed out? How would enforcement be handled?
I asked veteran Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller — he’s 36 years old and in his 16th big-league season — what he thought baseball might look like starting June 21, when the enforcement of the rules officially begins.
“You can’t tell me? I don’t know,” he said with a laugh, sitting on a padded rail outside the Cardinals’ dugout.
I told him I could venture a guess, but wanted to know what he thought, as a player.
“I’ve got guesses, too, but I’ll probably keep them to myself,” Miller said. “My hope is that the game is not affected negatively, but affected positively, and it’s handled with care, and that players have responsibility in this, just as the umpires will. Players are speaking with umpires as much as we can, to try and get a feel for what’s happening. They’re learning about this, it’s my understanding, kind of as we are, by the seat of their pants. It’s what the media knows before we we do, in a lot of cases. Ideally, it’s a beneficial thing, but I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Mike Shildt, the Cardinals manager, bemoaned the lack of a crystal ball, too, when pondering what suspensions might look like, so he didn’t hazard a guess. He did have other thoughts, though.
“My educated guess on the game itself? I think you’re going to see lower strikeouts,” he said. “You’re already seeing an increase in batting average over the last two weeks. I think you’re going to see a more offensive game. I don’t know what you’re going to see relative to walks and hit batters. I think that’s going to ebb and flow a bit. I think you’re going to see a better version of our game, relative to what we’re used to seeing. I say that, and everybody’s got their own version of the game they like. I think you’re going to see a more traditional game, what we grew up with, that is more about balls in play, more action. You’re going to see an appropriate amount of offense. You’re going to see that guys are able put the ball in play.”
He had one more thought, too.
“You’re going to see a regression, potentially — not even potentially — you’re going to see a regression in certain guys from a pitching standpoint,” Shildt said.
You can bet the spin rate Statcast pages will rack up big pageviews over the next few weeks. The timing of this crackdown — how random is June 21? — is problematic, and enforcement will be messy (more on that here!).
It’s also a bit surprising how strict MLB intends to be; for years, a combination of sunscreen and rosin — from that little white bag behind every mound — was seen as, essentially, an accepted part of the game. If pitchers had never strayed from that method, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But pitchers didn’t stay in that gray area, and super-sticky substances like Spider Tack ramped everything up a notch. Pitchers found out Tuesday that anything other than rosin would be grounds for not just an ejection, but a 10-game suspension.
“One of the concerns that I would have,” Miller said, “and that I have heard, is this is like a cold-turkey approach.”
Pitchers who have used the stickiest stuff are having to throw bullpens and other sessions to learn how to grip the ball again. The middle of June isn’t an ideal time.
At least one pitcher — Tyler Glasnow, the best hurler on the team with the best record in baseball, Tampa Bay — blames his injury on that abrupt change. He threw with a stronger grip in his first start after the crackdown, and he believes that made the difference.
Here is Tyler Glasnow explaining his frustration.
“I am telling you i believe that’s why I got hurt. I’m frustrated they don’t understand. Pitchers need to be able to have some control & grip on the ball. Don’t want this to happen to a anyone else, a fastball to slip away.” pic.twitter.com/W4zRbpmqDX
— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) June 15, 2021
“Do it in the offseason. Give us a chance to adjust to it,” the Rays’ ace told reporters in a Zoom session on Tuesday. “I just threw 80-something, 70-whatever innings, and then you just told me I can’t use anything in the middle of the year? I had to change everything I’d been doing the entire season. Everything, out the window. I had to start doing something completely new.”
If you’re curious, there are only eight games scheduled for June 21, the first official day of the crackdown. Everyone will be watching to see what happens. Everyone.
“We have an off day, so maybe I’ll watch more baseball than I ever planned to on my off day,” Miller said.