Major League Baseball on Tuesday announced that it would begin cracking down on pitchers who are using sticky substances on baseballs in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.
In a press release, MLB said that it would begin handing out 10-game suspensions to any pitcher caught using a foreign substance beginning June 21.
"I understand there's a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "It has become clear that the use of foreign substances has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field."
MLB has prohibited the use of foreign substances on baseballs for decades. But its decision to step up enforcement of the rule comes as the sport grapples with increased accusations of cheating and as offensive production has reached an all-time low.
In recent years, players have grumbled about what some have described as an "open secret" in baseball — pitchers using sticky substances to better grip a baseball to increase spin rate.
"Spin rate" refers to how much a ball spins when it leaves a pitcher's hand. Increasing the spin can cause a curveball to "curve" more or cause a fastball to appear to a hitter as if it is "rising." In recent years, coaches and front office personnel have developed new methods to track spin rate, making it an integral part of the modern game.
The sticky substances used by pitchers vary. According to The Athletic, pitchers have been known to use pine tar, vaseline and hair gel to better grip baseballs. There are also several proprietary products on the market, like Spider Tack — originally developed for professional lifters so they can better grip weights. Pitchers have even resorted to making homemade concoctions that include ingredients like sunscreen, rosin and boiled Coca-Cola.
Accusations came to a head last week when Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson accused Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole of using foreign substances, noting that his spin rate decreased shortly after four minor-leaguers got suspended over sticky baseballs.
Cole denied Donaldson's accusations but did not answer directly when asked if he had ever used Spider Tack.
"I don't quite know how to answer that, to be honest," Cole said after a long pause, according to Yahoo. "There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players. I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard, and I've stood pretty firm in terms of that, in terms of the communication between our peers and whatnot."
The new enforcement also comes as baseball is seeing historically low offensive numbers.
The advancements in pitching have led to soaring strikeout rates in recent years. Combined with other factors like the increased use of the infield shift and a new baseball that doesn't fly as far as in recent years, baseball has seen historically low offensive numbers in the modern game.
As of Tuesday morning, MLB hitters were hitting a collective .238 in 2021 — the second-lowest average of all time, trailing only 1968. Following the 1968 season, the MLB decided to lower the mound in an attempt to boost the offense.
Pitchers are also recording more strikeouts per game than at any other time in baseball history, continuing a trend that has seen strikeouts climb to record levels every year since 2008.