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Foreign Substances in Baseball

This year, the argument of whether or not pitchers are using, and whether or not they should be allowed to use foreign substances has really picked up heat, most noticeably in the Twitter world. Many arguments have been posed, both for and against foreign substances, and a conclusion needs to be made — the policy prohibiting pitchers using foreign substances needs to be revamped.

There has been a battle between pitchers and hitters fighting to gain an advantage over one another, trying to keep it hidden from the officiators ever since the game of baseball was invented. It is rumored that pitchers experimenting with foreign substances became popularized around the early 1900’s. Shortly after, in the 1920’s the original foreign substance pitch, the spitball, was banned. Since then, several other substances have been banned as they are used and seen as a problem by officials.

The current policy in baseball, at all levels of play, is that foreign substances are not to be used by pitchers at any time. Rule 3.01 titled “The Ball” states that,” … No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance .”(Official Baseball Rules 2018 Edition) The current punishment for breaking this rule is an immediate ejection from the game plus a ten-game suspension to be served after the game the incident occurred in.

Pitchers have progressively gotten more creative and their ability to hide the foreign substance has increased to the point that officials no longer noticed and managers have become numb to opponents using it because they know their own players do it. On a very rare occasion will a manager ever call out an opponent for using a foreign substance. The most popular one being pictured above, and the only reason why he was called out was because of how obvious it was. If the Red Sox manager had not done anything about it, he would’ve been questioned about his integrity and the games integrity would have also been put under scrutiny.

This inability and unwillingness to hold players accountable to the rules is the exact reason why a change to the policy must be made. Pitchers can be seen using an illegal substance all the time if you watch the game carefully. Every time a new ball is put in play, you’ll notice that almost every single pitcher will take off their glove and then proceed to rub the ball with their hands. You will see them quickly brush over their forearm, where the sunscreen-rosin mixture is, and rub it into the baseball, increasing its stickiness.

The new policy would allow pitchers to use foreign to adjust their grip of the ball. This can be done using substances such as pine tar, rosin, hair-gel, Vaseline, etc. Pitchers, however, will not be allowed to severely discolor the baseball, impeding the hitter’s ability to see the ball. The use of foreign substance will only be allowed to adjust the pitcher’s ability to grip the baseball. Pitchers will not be allowed to damage balls either by cutting or scuffing them on the ground or with sand paper or any substance like it in order to increase movement. A list of eligible substances will be constructed and if pitchers want to add one to the list, they will need to go through Major League Baseball Offices in order to ensure that substance will not damage or severely discolor the baseball.

By changing this policy, the playing field for pitchers immediately becomes level. There is no more excuses to not take advantage of using foreign substances, unless you just really don’t want to. Those who chose to “maintain their integrity” will no longer have to deal with the internal conflict of choosing to adhere to the rules or do what everyone else was doing in order to be competitive.

One of the biggest arguments against this policy change is that it will change the balance of the game. The change in balance would severely swing into the favor of the pitcher and would render hitters nearly obsolete. People already feel as though that the game of baseball is pitcher dominant because of league-wide drop in hitter’s batting average and the increase of strikeouts across the league over the last several years.

The first counter argument against this claim is that pitchers are already using foreign substances. A large majority of pitchers are seen applying the sunscreen-rosin mixture already and that’s not counting the individuals who have pine tar applied in areas that cannot be easily seen. For example, inside the pant’s waste, inside the belt, inside a glove, or even using a spray on pine tar on a jersey as pictured below. When David Price exited the deciding World Series Game, his hand was seen sticking to his jersey.

(Reddit/mlb from wrestlingfan001)

The second counter argument to the previous claim is that baseball is in a different era. Baseball goes through cycles and the current cycle is a bunch of hard throwing pitchers against large, or at least large swinging, hitters that want to get the ball in the air, giving themselves a greater likelihood of hitting it over the fence. Along with the previous trends mentioned about batting average and strikeouts, there has also been a significant increase in home-runs and a constant increase in walks.

Another main claim against the change in policy is that using foreign substances don’t really help or affect the pitch and pitch outcome and therefore shouldn’t be necessary for pitchers. The obvious and non-educational answer to this would be that there is a reason that professional pitchers are using foreign substances. There is an educational answer, however, and it this research was conducted recently.

Cleveland Indians pitcher, Trevor Bauer, conducted an experiment using different foreign substances at a training facility called Driveline. Him and the Driveline administration have been on the frontier of technology and baseball, using high speed cameras and government radar systems in order to register the velocity of the ball, spin rate of the ball, spin efficiency, pitch angle, and so many other interesting physics of the ball in its flight towards the hitter. Bauer and the Driveline team found some remarkable trends and interactions between the ball’s spin rate and foreign substances. Below is an image of the graph Bauer created with the link to the Twitter feed to see what was discussed about why guys would do such a thing of using foreign substances; along with some background information for how the experiment was conducted and to define a couple terms that may be unfamiliar to some.

(via Trevor Bauer https://twitter.com/BauerOutage/status/1058906046255644672 )

Implementing the new policy would be quite simple. A meeting with pitchers and Major League Baseball Official Rules Committee would need to be arranged in order to determine what foreign substances will be allowed. This list would then be distributed to all the teams within the league and extended to College Baseball Rule Committee and the High School Baseball Rule Committees. Play would virtually continue as though nothing had changed, except for the fact that their will no longer be the awkward situation of trying to avoid the fact that people were blatantly cheating and the Major League Baseball was doing nothing about it. The integrity of the game and those affiliated with it are no longer questioned and the game is the same as it was.

Sources: http://mlb.mlb.com/documents/0/8/0/268272080/2018_Official_Baseball_Rules.pdf