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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

MLB finds new way to catch cheating pitchers

In an attempt to lessen the use by pitchers of foreign substances on balls, MLB is notifying clubs that it will begin using its Statcast data to analyze increases in spin rate, specifically for pitchers suspected of doctoring baseballs, The Post has learned.

Manipulating the baseball by changing its structure with a nick or cut or by using substances that change the trajectory of pitches is as old as the game. Nevertheless, in recent years the analytic wave has increased awareness of the benefit of spin to make fastballs ride better and breaking pitches break more.

That has led to pitchers using various forms of sticky substances that help foster more revolutions per minute on their offerings. This is against rule 6.02 on doctoring the baseball. But for years a gentlemen’s agreement existed not to challenge a pitcher, namely because so many were doing it that to challenge an opponent was to risk having your pitchers challenged as well. Also, even hitters were generally in favor of pitchers using something sticky, especially with slick balls in cold weather, to better control them and avoid those hitters being hit by pitches.


But an increase of velocity and breaking-ball usage has been instrumental in strikeout-per-game records being set annually for the last decade and a half. That in turn has led to greater desire to hit homers because it has become so hard to string hits together. That also fosters more walks as pitchers try to miss bats. And MLB is now trying to counter the ever-rising three true outcomes (strikeouts, walks and homers) to get more balls in play and more action.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 12:15 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: doctoring the ball

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   1. . Posted: March 24, 2021 at 06:50 AM (#6009806)
Putting bullshit on the ball is the only plausible explanation for the increased velocity in the past five years. Twenty-nine and 30 year old men don't organically start throwing their fastball three and four MPH faster. Standing alone, it never made a lick of sense.
   2. Rally Posted: March 24, 2021 at 07:40 AM (#6009809)
If there is any substance that you can put on a baseball that makes it move faster I’d like to know what it is. I guess you could strap on a miniature rocket to propel it. But then you better throw it with zero spin or who knows where the rocket will take it.
   3. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 08:34 AM (#6009813)
I was going to ask if someone can explain how foreign substances can improve fastball velocity. Maybe improved grip? The article talks about spin making “fastballs ride better” but I thought that referred more to the movement on a fastball, not its velocity.
   4. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2021 at 08:58 AM (#6009817)
I guess you could strap on a miniature rocket to propel it. But then you better throw it with zero spin or who knows where the rocket will take it.


Once the rockets go up who cares where they come down? /Werner von Braun.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 09:07 AM (#6009818)
I was going to ask if someone can explain how foreign substances can improve fastball velocity.

They can't.
   6. . Posted: March 24, 2021 at 09:12 AM (#6009822)
Only if you presume that the natural human body provides the best combination of friction and other relevant variables to fastball velocity, and there's zero reason for that presumption. Try putting a slippery foreign substance on and throwing a fastball. It will go slower. If a foreign substance can slow it down, a foreign substance can speed it up.
   7. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: March 24, 2021 at 09:32 AM (#6009823)
If a foreign substance can slow it down, a foreign substance can speed it up.


I agree with this but I wonder how much it can be speeded up. At the end of the day the ball is going to decelerate the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand so it's limited to how fast the human arm can move. But yeah, a better grip on the ball presumably is going to get the most out of that arm speed so if you and I both move our arms at the same speed but I have a better grip my fastball is going to be faster (and probably have more spin*) than yours.

* "spin" is one of those things I feel like too much is made of. It feels a lot like we are quantifying scouting which is all well and good but at the end of the day if a pitcher isn't getting outs I don't care about spin rate anymore than I care about velocity. I'm probably wrong on that.
   8. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 09:53 AM (#6009827)
Only if you presume that the natural human body provides the best combination of friction and other relevant variables to fastball velocity, and there's zero reason for that presumption.

If the ball isn't sliding out of your hand, adding grip is not a good thing. If the ball sticks to your fingers, it will go slower.

In any case, we know why FB velocities are up. In order of importance.

1) Measurement. The practice of tracking velocity ever closer to release instead of close to the plate added 4-5 MPH to everyone's FB vs. the 1980s. All these guys throwing 99-100 today are really throwing 94-95 MPH based on the scale we grew up with. The top end of velocity hasn't increased, but far more guys are reaching it.

2) Shorter outings. Starters nowadays throw max effort on every pitch; no one paces themselves. RPs are selected to throw max velocity for 10-20 pitches, and no one has to pace themselves.

3) More time between pitches. Everyone gears up to throw max effort on every pitch. Look at 40 y.o. game footage, they were not.

Better grip is going to be a rounding error on a rounding error compared to these factors.
   9. JJ1986 Posted: March 24, 2021 at 10:28 AM (#6009833)
In any case, we know why FB velocities are up. In order of importance.
I think improved mechanics has to go in there somewhere.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 10:43 AM (#6009835)
I think improved mechanics has to go in there somewhere.

For some individuals, sure, but I don't think they've discovered anything that good pitchers weren't already doing. And, in some cases, these hard throwing RPs have lousy mechanics. That's probably why they break so often.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 24, 2021 at 10:50 AM (#6009838)
Pitchers have realized you don't generate velocity through swinging your arms around like pendulums (pendula?) and rearing way back with a huge leg kick.
   12. Astroenteritis Posted: March 24, 2021 at 11:29 AM (#6009846)
I think this is good, but I am curious as to how they will determine which pitchers are "suspected of doctoring baseballs".
   13. . Posted: March 24, 2021 at 11:36 AM (#6009850)
If the ball sticks to your fingers, it will go slower.


Put a slippery substance on your fingers, throw a few fastballs. Then take the slippery substance off your fingers, throw a few fastballs. Get back to us with the results.

Measurement. The practice of tracking velocity ever closer to release instead of close to the plate added 4-5 MPH to everyone's FB vs. the 1980s. All these guys throwing 99-100 today are really throwing 94-95 MPH based on the scale we grew up with. The top end of velocity hasn't increased, but far more guys are reaching it.


I sympathize with this in general, but it doesn't explain, e.g., deGrom's velocity increase in just the past few years. I do believe some of this velocity increase is illusory and maybe even done for sales/marketing purposes, but that doesn't account for 2015-20.

Shorter outings. Starters nowadays throw max effort on every pitch; no one paces themselves. RPs are selected to throw max velocity for 10-20 pitches, and no one has to pace themselves.


That's probably added a little bit when compared with 20=30 years ago. No real reason it should have between 2014-2020.

More time between pitches. Everyone gears up to throw max effort on every pitch. Look at 40 y.o. game footage, they were not.


No real reason to think this is a factor either. Once you're "recovered," extra recovery time doesn't change anything. If they stood there another 2 minutes, they wouldn't throw 115. Usain Bolt isn't running 8.2 if he waits a day for his next race rather than a half hour or whatever.
   14. gehrig97 Posted: March 24, 2021 at 12:38 PM (#6009864)
I suspect the increase in velo over the last 20 years (and it has been 20 years; it's not like we've seen pitchers in aggregate increase 5 mph over the last two seasons. Well, except deGrom) is a combination of things: Better understanding of mechanics; better conditioning; bigger, stronger athletes; and, in the last few years, an avalanche of data and analytics that let's pitchers better harness their best stuff. Combine this with shorter outings, and you have an increase in velocity (and TJ surgery).

I get that MLB wants to cut down on strikeouts, but this approach seems to suggest that there's widespread doctoring of the ball. I just don't see how this is possible when there are literally a dozen cameras on the pitcher at all times.

   15. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: March 24, 2021 at 01:34 PM (#6009883)
I sympathize with this in general, but it doesn't explain, e.g., deGrom's velocity increase in just the past few years. I do believe some of this velocity increase is illusory and maybe even done for sales/marketing purposes, but that doesn't account for 2015-20.


I recall a change to the way this stuff was measured happening around that time frame. Someone here can probably tell me if I'm wrong but I seem to recall there was a change in the measuring equipment that moved it closer to the release point.
   16. Jobu is silent on the changeup Posted: March 24, 2021 at 01:36 PM (#6009884)
I think this is good, but I am curious as to how they will determine which pitchers are "suspected of doctoring baseballs".
I for one, admire MLB's level of honesty in announcing the selective enforcement along with the policy.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 01:45 PM (#6009886)
I recall a change to the way this stuff was measured happening around that time frame. Someone here can probably tell me if I'm wrong but I seem to recall there was a change in the measuring equipment that moved it closer to the release point.

Yes. This has happened multiple times. The "fast" radar guns measured closer to the hand than the "slow" gun. PitchFX measured closer to the hand than the radar guns. Statcast measures closer to the hand than PitchFX.

Statcast was introduced in 2015.

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-velocity-surge-has-plateaued/

Velocity was flat from 2016-18. It seems to have ticked up a little in 2019 (93.1 vs 92.7)

https://www.mlb.com/news/craziest-baseball-stats-of-2019

The vast majority of the velocity increase predates the "spin rate" era.
   18. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 02:55 PM (#6009900)
I get that MLB wants to cut down on strikeouts, but this approach seems to suggest that there's widespread doctoring of the ball. I just don't see how this is possible when there are literally a dozen cameras on the pitcher at all times.


Any time you see a pitcher touch any part of their uniform or equipment, there's a decent likelihood they're putting something on their fingers. I know this is anecdotal, but my cousin, who pitched briefly at the lower levels of the Nationals' organization, said that nearly every pitcher had some mix they would use and it could be anywhere from the hat to a wristband to the glove to the upper leg. Based on everything I've heard from former pitchers, it is definitely widespread, and you only get called out for it if you're blatantly obvious (and sometimes not even then if you're Kenny Rogers).
   19. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 24, 2021 at 03:42 PM (#6009907)
DeGrom started pitching as a 21-year-old junior in college (ok, he had one relief appearance as a sophomore). Then he had TJ surgery in the minors and missed his age 23 season. He arrived in the majors with ~400 IP of total pitching experience. He’s probably the guy who could most plausibly and legitimately still add velocity in his late 20s/30s. Which isn’t to say he’s innocent. But he didn’t follow a traditional development curve so I wouldn’t pronounce him guilty based on how well he conforms to one.

I do think some people are understating how much pitcher usage has changed in just the last few years. Teams used 692 pitchers in total in 2014. That number increased by 20% in just 5 years, to 831 in 2019. That’s more than the 18% increase during the 18 years from 1996-2014, and they added two new *teams* to the league during the latter period.
   20. Bhaakon Posted: March 24, 2021 at 11:25 PM (#6009948)
any time you see a pitcher touch any part of their uniform or equipment, there's a decent likelihood they're putting something on their fingers.


Exactly. The unwritten rules of the game have a strong aversion to disrupting personal ritual, even in the face of the written rules. Which means that certain pitchers can balk on every pick-off because that's just how they've always done it. Some pitchers can jump off the rubber long before they release the ball because that's their established motion. If a pitcher makes a habit of touching his pitching hand to his wrist, his nose, and the bill of his cap before every pitch, no one questions it as long as he's not dumb enough to use a substance that stains.
   21. Karl from NY Posted: March 25, 2021 at 03:40 PM (#6010125)
If a foreign substance can slow it down, a foreign substance can speed it up.

That's not true. My car's brake pads slow it down when engaged. How much will depend on the substance they're made of. But there is no substance that would make brake pads speed up the car.

Substances can dissipate energy, they can't create it, short of being some kind of combustible.
   22. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 25, 2021 at 03:43 PM (#6010127)
My car's brake pads slow it down when engaged.
Ideally, yes.
   23. . Posted: March 25, 2021 at 03:45 PM (#6010128)
But there is no substance that would make brake pads speed up the car.


Brake pads aren't engaged when the car is propelled. N/A.

Substances can dissipate energy, they can't create it, short of being some kind of combustible.


Foreign substances could dissipate less energy than the natural substances of the finger then. Friction between the fingers and the ball is necessary to propel the ball forward and a certain spin rate/launch angle is the best to most effectively propel it through the resistance of air particles. If the natural substances of the human fingers gave the best combination of those factors it would be a pure accident. Golf companies test and manufacture aggressively to perfect the right combination of clubhead generated friction, spin, and launch. The fingers are the equivalent of the clubhead.

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